TEEN TELLS SCHOOL HORROR STORY
Officials deny claims of cruelty, say program helps troubled students
Editor's note: The names of the young woman and her grandfather in this story were changed.
Times Record News (Wichita Falls, Texas)
November 20, 1998
Catherine was 15. She'd stopped going to school. She wasn't a bad girl - no drinking, no drugging -
she just skipped out one day and never went back.Her wealthy parents were frustrated, but money couldn't buy peace in the home. At their wit's end, they decided to send her to a boarding school. Nobody foresaw the tribulations to come, when Catharine was hauled from her North Texas home 1,050 miles away to the rocky country of rural southwest Utah - nine months of what she and her family now consider hard time in a hard place.
Catherine was sent to a boarding school run by an organization that had another school
in the Czech Republic two weeks ago. Staff members were charged with child cruelty.
Catherine tells a story that, if true, might amount to child abuse. But the school sees
the way she was
treated as appropriate discipline for a troubled teen-ager. This is Catherine's side of the story: It was the day before her 16th birthday. Catherine, now 17 and married, said she was handcuffed by "escorts" in the parking lot of the Dairy Queen in Henrietta, Texas, where she had been dropped off by her stepfather.
They drove her to the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, flew her to Las Vegas, then took her
Creek Manor near St. George, Utah. She said she spent hours restrained, with her arms stretched
tightly behind her back. She said she had bruises on her wrists for days.
"I cried the whole time I was cuffed," said Catherine, who told her story
after reading of alleged
abuses at boarding schools abroad in the Times Record News. "I was in shock. I had gotten the
idea by then that I wasn't going to a boarding school, and my parents had lied to me."
She said she felt like a prisoner.
"I wasn't drinking or doing drugs. I just wasn't going to school," the former
Rider High School
student said. "I don't know why. I was just really stupid. It was a childish, immature act. It started off
I'd skip classes, then I wouldn't go all day, and then I wouldn't go at all. I was just rebelling."
Catherine's maternal grandfather, Paul, said he was shaken by his granddaughter's ordeal. He said
she was a troubled child trying to deal with an unstable family.
"Catherine had just gone through two (parental) divorces, and she was just trying
to grow up," Paul
said. "When you get rid of a man out of the family, you don't know if you are going to be next. I
don't think she was on drugs, they just couldn't keep her in school." Catherine's father couldn't be reached for comment. Her mother declined to talk about what happened.
When she first got to the school, Catherine said, she was strip-searched, then dressed
pants and a sweatshirt, and given a thin mattress on the floor. She said she was watched all night.
"I never went to sleep that night. I laid in a ball and cried all night," she said. "The next morning, girls
came out of doors everywhere. They put on their uniforms, brushed their hair and didn't talk or make eye contact with each other. They called 'silence' and no one could speak."
Catherine said calling "silence" was a way the school kept the girls from making friendships. For the
first few weeks, she had a "buddy" who never left her alone, and every room was guarded by staff
"I never believed in brainwashing until I got there," she said. "My
therapist told me I'd been raped
and molested as a child. Over a period of months, he built this up in my mind. They had these
three-day seminars and put us in a room and told us all we had done wrong. Girls would bang
themselves on the ground, and say they hated themselves and actually believe it. I was in
therapy after I left this place because they messed so much with my head."
Catherine said she was able to speak to her parents by telephone about five times in
After eight months at the school, her father came to visit. "I think I scared him," she said of the meeting. "I just held him and cried. When I was hugging him, I said, 'Dad, please don't do this to me.' "Her father left, then returned in two weeks to take her home.Catherine and her family don't discuss her experience at the school.
"I don't think they realized what type of school it was," her grandfather
said. "They'd like to forget it.
I think her mother is very remorseful. It almost caused me to commit a felony. I wanted to go up
there and break her out. The school would tell them she wasn't ready yet to get out. She had to
advance to these levels, and they wouldn't advance her to the level so they could see her.
"They (Catherine's parents) don't want to talk about it. They say it's done and over with. But it's not
done with this child. She's got to live with it. I don't think her daddy could apologize a thousand
times and she get over it." That's Catherine's story.
A Cross Creek Manor administrator tells a different story. In it, Catherine, rather
than a victim, is a
manipulator who mistook discipline for abuse. "What she is saying about academics is absurd," said Karr Farnsworth, president of the World Wide Association of specialty programs, the organization that operates Cross Creek Manor and other residential schools in Montana, Mexico, North Carolina, Jamaica and Western Samoa.
"The school is for kids not making it in the community or at home,"
Farnsworth said. "They are
usually not going to school or not cooperating with their parents. Some have been involved in drugs
and alcohol." Farnsworth acknowledged that the school is a structured, controlled environment with strict rules. Farnsworth confirmed much of what Catherine said about Cross Creek Manor, but denied there is any cruel treatment or "brainwashing."
He said some children are handcuffed when they come to the facility, but only if
they're a danger to
themselves. He said he doesn't believe much of Catherine's story. Former students who did not like Cross Creek tend to tell "a little truth and embellish on it and tell some lies," he said. He acknowledged that misbehaving children are put into isolation. But Farnsworth called it being put
in "time out." Students also don't have their hands tied, he said. New students have a "buddy" with them at all times, but they are allowed to go to the bathroom, shower and sleep by themselves, he said.
Telephone conversations between students and their parents are monitored, but by a
conjunction with psychological treatment. "We don't brainwash, ever. I've heard the comment before, but it's not an accurate statement," Farnsworth said. "When the kids are doing well, the cynics say we must have brainwashed them. We are giving them tools and an opportunity to correct."
But complaints about such schools aren't isolated to Cross Creek Manor. Recent national
has been focused on an organization that runs schools out of St. George. The consortium is known
by various names: Teen Help, World Wide Association and Adolescent Services International. It
sends kids, sometimes shackled and surrounded by guards, to facilities in Mexico, Samoa and
Jamaica, the Denver Rocky Mountain News recently reported.
Fifty-seven American children were freed from the Morava Academy in the Czech Republic
police investigated complaints of abuse, the newspaper reported. Several staff were charged with
"These are not boarding schools. . . . These are like lock-down prisons,"
said Alexia Parks, a
Colorado business woman who runs a Web site about the schools for concerned parents.
But Farnsworth said Parks has her own personal agenda and is misinformed. He dismissed
complaints about the organization he runs and said the children are simply lying. As for Catherine, he said, "She doesn't want to admit that her parents made a good choice to help her at a time when she needed the help. Some day she will see that."
Staff Writer Monica Wolfson can be reached at (940) 767-8341 or (800) 627-1646,
with e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. A Scripps Howard Newspaper