District of Columbia and West Virginia authorities have removed six 12-to-14-year-old youths from a rustic camp-school for troubled boys near Charles Town, W.Va., pending investigations of charges by some of the youths that they were abused by staff members there.
Over the last few days, the boys complained to a Martinsburg, W.Va., newspaper and West Virginia welfare officials that their physical needs were being ignored at the wilderness school, where they live in tents, and later charged that staff had slapped them and thrown them on the ground as punishment for running away.
Officials of For Love of Children (FLOC), which runs the FLOC Wilderness School, denied yesterday that any abuse had occurred and said that bruises and marks the boys had displayed to officials were a result of a skirmish they instigated themselves.
Jan Adams, a West Virginia Department of Welfare investigator, said yesterday that an investigation is being conducted and a final report will be issued soon, probably next week. FLOC Executive Director Fred Taylor quoted Adams as saying her preliminary determination is that the allegations of abuse are unfounded.
Three 15-year-old boys remained yesterday at the wilderness school, where children in trouble may be sent by parents, school officials or the courts for an alternative form of education. They sleep in tents even in winter and learn basic survival skills such as building shelter and cooking.
The D.C. Department of Human Services, which had four boys at the school under a city contract, went to D.C. Superior Court yesterday for permission to send those youths back to their families and to put them in programs with day supervision, a source familiar with the proceedings said. The youths were examined at Children's Hospital Wednesday night and spent the night at the Children's Receiving Home here.
City officials said they will wait to get reports from the D.C. police department, Children's Hospital and the West Virginia welfare agency before deciding whether to return the boys to the school and whether to send other children there.
Five boys first made allegations of abuse on Tuesday to reporters at the Charles Town office of The Martinsburg (W.Va.) Journal, after running away from the school.
They then complained of mistreatment such as not being allowed to take showers and not having fires at night to keep warm. The reporters called in welfare officials who sent the boys back to the school for the night.
The next day, the boys returned to the newspaper, some with bruises, and said staff members had slapped them and thrown them down. They said they were not given dinner and were made to stay up until 3 a.m.
Taylor said the boys' bruises occurred after they broke into the school's main building late Tuesday night and counselors came in to restrain them. The school's program involves having the boys work out problems together whenever they occur, so they may have been up late for that, he said.
Bob Griffin, director of the school, said the boys weren't given dinner Tuesday because they already had raided the pantry.