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A Delaware County, Pa., school for delinquent youths has filed a class action suit in U.S. District Court to challenge the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s procedures for investigating allegations of child abuse that call for teachers to be suspended without pay as soon as any accusation is lodged against them. In Glen Mills v. Houstoun, the Glen Mills Schools claims that its teachers have lost more than 1,200 days of work “simply because they were accused of mistreating a student, but before any investigation was complete and before they had any opportunity at a hearing to defend themselves or their right to work.” Attorneys Guy Vilim and M. Robin Maddox of Philadelphia’s Gold and Vilim filed the suit on behalf of the Glen Mills Schools and teacher William Perlsweig, as well as a proposed class consisting of “persons employed in the child welfare field who are accused of committing child abuse and then prohibited from working based solely on the accusation.” Vilim and Maddox argue that the investigative procedures established by Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Welfare violate the teachers’ federal due process rights and amount to a “malicious misuse of process.” The suit also includes a claim against state officials for tortious interference with contract. Between February 2000 and May 2001, the suit says, every one of the 39 Glen Mills staff members accused of committing abuse against a student was later cleared of wrongdoing. But the accusation itself had already inflicted a stiff punishment, the suit says, since the 39 teachers were all removed from their jobs or prohibited from working alone with students as the investigations played out. Named as defendants in the suit are Secretary of Public Welfare Feather H. Houstoun; the deputy secretary for the DPW Office of Children, Youth and Families, Joanne Lawlor; and Anne Shenberger, the director of the southeast regional DPW office. The suit alleges that enrollment at Glen Mills dropped by more than 200 students because of the DPW investigations. Glen Mills, a school for adjudicated youths, opened in 1826 and is the oldest school of its kind in the world. It provides services to 825 students. The suit alleges that DPW adopted the illegal investigative procedures in an effort to retaliate against Glen Mills after a 1998 contract dispute. Four years before, the suit says, Glen Mills and DPW struck a contract in which the school agreed to provide delinquent rehabilitation services to Pennsylvanians adjudicated as delinquents by the courts. When DPW tried to revise the contract and withdraw annual incremental raises, the suit says, Glen Mills threatened to cancel the contract. Ultimately, the suit says, Glen Mills took its concerns to the administrative judge of Philadelphia Family Court, who in turn contacted the governor’s office. Although the school won its increases, the suit alleges that Lawlor became “determined to seek retribution” against the school. The suit says “word circulated throughout DPW” that anyone in the department who could “get Glen Mills” would earn a “feather in the cap.” Soon after, the suit says, state officials altered their procedures for handling cases of alleged child abuse and “embarked on a concerted, aggressive and malicious campaign to use their authority to retaliate against Glen Mills … to ruin its reputation for excellence in the care, treatment and education of students, and to damage its business relationship with jurisdictions that send it students.” The alleged campaign of retaliation culminated in a May 2000 report by DPW that said Glen Mills was operating in violation of its license and that the department intended to revoke the license. The suit says DPW reported the allegations by students as “proven fact” even though the cases were still under investigation. Later, the suit says, “each and every allegation of abuse and mistreatment ‘reported’ in the licensing condemnation … [was] either dismissed or discredited or disproved.” But the suit alleges that the report had already done significant damage to the school’s reputation because its purported “findings” were published to officials in the jurisdictions that routinely sent delinquent youths to the school. Before the report, the suit says, Glen Mills had an average enrollment of more than 975 students. By January 2001, the suit says, enrollment had dropped to 753. The school is claiming actual damages of $13.8 million as a result of lost revenue for students who were either removed from or not sent to campus, unnecessary salaries paid to replacement workers, and attorney fees. Glen Mills staff members are seeking reimbursement for approximately 1,232 days of lost work.

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