West Virginia authorities have determined there is no basis for allegations that staff members at the FLOC Wilderness School near Charles Town physically abused some of the troubled boys there.
The allegations were made three weeks ago by several residents of the school, prompting an investigation by the state. West Virginia licensing supervisor Helen Bell said yesterday that on the basis of the investigation, "We did not feel there was deliberate physical abuse of residents" at the camp-school.
For Love of Children (FLOC), a nonprofit church group that operates a number of foster care programs in the District, ran the alternative school where nine youths aged 12 to 15 lived in tents until this month. Troubled boys were placed there by parents, school officials or the courts, and the District had four boys there under a city contract.
The wilderness school will remain closed at least temporarily, despite being cleared of the abuse allegations, because its West Virginia license expired at the end of last month. To reopen the school, officials must deal with state authorities' concerns about staffing and must apply for a permanent license, Bell said.
FLOC Executive Director Fred Taylor said yesterday that the group hopes to reopen the school in June.
Taylor said six of the boys who had lived at the school now are with their families, two are in a District juvenile group home and one is in a West Virginia facility.
Audrey Rowe, D.C. social services commissioner, said at the time the abuse allegations were made that the city would wait for the results of the investigation before deciding whether to keep sending boys to the school. Rowe could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Earlier this month, District and West Virginia authorities removed youths from the wilderness school after some of them complained that their physical needs were not being met and that they were slapped and pushed to the ground as punishment for running away from the school.
School officials denied the allegations and said the bruises the boys showed authorities were a result of skirmishes the boys started themselves. Physical restraint had to be used on the boys, but no abuse was involved, they said. West Virginia investigators concurred that the marks resulted from staff members' attempts to restrain the boys.
Bell said state officials were concerned, however, that there had been too few staff members to handle the boys and that school officials had not contacted the authorities when the boys first ran away. In addition, the counselors need to be better trained, she said.