Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Hard knock life: Tracking young Jordan through the snows of Montana

I'm beginning to feel like Little Orphan Annie these days. Or perhaps Oliver Twist. All I want to do is find out if a "behavior modification" school in Montana (where my daughter's friend "Jordan" has currently been sent to) is yet another snake pit boot camp or is actually on the up-and-up. But finding out ANYTHING about this sort of program for "troubled teens" is like trying to track down Fagin in a Charles Dickens novel. Or the Artful Dodger. These programs play their cards really close to the chest and don't want anyone to know what goes on inside them.

I know for a fact that Jordan is at Monarch School because he snuck in a phone call to us last October while being transported there from another "behavior modification" camp in the Utah desert. But Monarch School steadfastly denies that Jordan is there -- and they certainly aren't volunteering to let us speak with him. Despite all the wonderful descriptions of their program that one finds on Monarch's website, that's not a good sign.

So. Here's my question: Is this place the paradise that they describe or is it another New York City Municipal Orphanage run by Miss Hannigan?

As Daddy Warbucks learned the hard way, it's a good idea to be wary of behavior modification institutions where a child is not allowed to communicate with anyone. (If for no other reason than that Jordan might sign an Emancipated Minor form and Monarch would be out $4,000 a month! Fagin and Daddy Warbucks should take note -- these behavior modification programs are Big Business!)

According to Jordan Riak of Project No-Spank, there are several things that "should be absolutely avoided" by successful behavior modification programs. Among these are when:

---Parents are required to sign a "contract" that transfers to the school extraordinary rights over the child. The primary purpose of this requirement is to create the illusion that the school's authority over the child is absolute.

---Children do not have free access to a telephone. Periodic telephone conversations between parent and child are rigidly scheduled and are monitored by the school staff. Mail to and from the child is screened.

---The usual holiday visits home, e.g., Christmas and Thanksgiving, are not permitted.

---Parents are not allowed to drop in at the school for an unannounced visit.

Okay. Forget about Little Orphan Annie. Forget about Oliver Twist. Now we are going to become Sherlock Holmes!

While Sleuthing around for information about Monarch School, this is what I discovered:

---Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education (PTAVE) checked with their nationwide network of educational professionals regarding Monarch School. PTAVE's resultant report to me listed various Monarch School staff members' connections with Rocky Mountain Academy, which, according to Idaho court records, has been sued by many parents, including for one incident where a child was forced to dig his own grave, crawl into a coffin and be buried alive. Eeeuuu.

---The Montana Office of Public Instruction has no listing for Monarch School, either as an accredited or non-accredited school or as a home schooling facility.

---According to a Sanders County librarian, government supervision of private schools in Montana is almost non-existent. "Any human being can start a private school here with no training whatsoever. Private schools are not regulated."

---The Sanders County Sheriffs' Department informed me there had been several instances where the department has been called out to help search for runaways.

---The child protective services of western Montana said there are 36 such unregulated schools in the state. They also told me that every child had to be in a school and if Monarch wasn't listed as a school, this might be grounds for removing Jordan from there.

---I talked with a representative of the Montana CASA program and she stated that CASA is working hard to develop legislation where there will be licensing requirements for behavior modification facilities in Montana. Currently there are none.

---The Montana child abuse hotline informed me that they do not do "welfare checks" on behavior modification schools and referred me to the licensing bureau. I am waiting for them to get back to me.

---The Sanders County district attorney's office said that no lawsuits have been filed against Monarch School and that, in this case, no news is good news -- but that in many cases, schools that are shut down in Idaho for child safety violations simply move across the border and open for business again in Montana.

---Monarch School has sent children to perform public service at the Camphill Community in Copake, NY. The Camphill Community gave Monarch School a good report.

---The Sanders County job hotline lists five teaching/supervisory positions available in Heron, MT. They gave Monarch School a good report also, stating that teachers at Monarch were required to have a college degree and the children appeared to be well-treated.

---The Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution outlaws "involuntary servitude" for everyone in the United States -- except children.

Because my sources reported such a wide spectrum of possibilities regarding the quality of education at Monarch School, I think you will understand that, as a decent human being, a Christian, an advocate for children and a friend of Jordan's, I would be remiss if I did not try to follow through and find out what Jordan's true situation is.

Okay. Forget about Sherlock Holmes. Now we get to play at being Jack London! In order to find out if "Jordan" is REALLY okay, I have contacted Monarch School and requested a tour of the facility. But what if it's 30 degrees below zero in Montana! Talk about your "Call of the Wild." Saddle up the sled dogs, Jack! Iditarod, here we come!

Does anybody out there know anything about Monarch School?

Does anybody out there have any snow shoes?