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27 Children Removed From Montana Alternative Treatment Center Over Abuse Allegations

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  • Montana removed 27 children from an alternative youth treatment program citing allegations of physical and mental abuse, along with medical neglect. 
  • According to the state, the kids were hit, kicked, spit on by staff, forced to go on 15-20 mile disciplinary walks in hash conditions, withheld from food, subjected to prolonged isolation, and more. 
  • The facility’s executive director denied several allegations, calling them “deceptions,” and said he will fight the state’s suspension of the center’s license.  

Children Removed 

Authorities in Montana have removed 27 children from a youth treatment facility after learning of “consistent and chronic allegations of physical and psychological abuse, as well as medical neglect,” the state said Tuesday. 

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services removed the children from a facility called Ranch for Kids in Rexford, which is located in the northwest corner of the state. 

In a news release the department said, “Allegations of egregious abuse regarding Ranch for Kids has escalated in both frequency and severity in recent months.”

“The 27 children that were removed are now at a safe location,” the agency added. “They are receiving medical care. The details of their care and condition are confidential.”

The children were removed during a two-hour-long sting operation conducted by 20 caseworkers and law enforcement authorities. On Wednesday, a state health department official said the agency had made contact with “virtually all of the parents” and many kids have already been reunited with their families. 

The state department also suspended the nonprofit organization’s license “to prevent future abuse,” and said that information it can publically release is limited because the investigation is ongoing. 

The Allegations 

Ranch for Kids is a nonprofit organization which describes itself as a treatment center for “Kids who have been adopted, and suffer from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD),” according to its website. 

However, the state says that the children, who are between 11-17-years-old, were actually subjected to consistent abuse. Reports of physical abuse included allegations that the children were hit, kicked, bodyslammed, and spit on by staff.  One child was even allegedly shot with a nail gun. 

Several staff members were accused of “persistent psychological abuse.” Food was allegedly withheld from the children, who were also subjected to prolonged isolation. Authorities say children did not receive any medical attention when it was critically needed and said medications were not stored, administered, or regulated properly. 

The state also heard reports of excessive discipline like forcing the children to go on 15-20 mile disciplinary walks, with no shoes or improper shoes, in harsh conditions along remote Forest Service roads. Children who ran away were also not reported to authorities in a timely or consistent manner, even in harsh winter conditions, the state said. 

Investigators interviewed former staff members, counselors, and the children, according to KECI. The investigation led to a court order, which allowed the department and Child Protective Services to remove the children and suspend the ranch’s license.

Authorities made no arrests during their visit, but children are still being interviewed, and the Montana Department of Justice said it would explore criminal charges. 

Ranch Denies Allegations

Bill Sutley, the ranch’s executive director, said he is cooperating with the state’s investigation. However, he has denied some of the allegations against the facility, including the allegation about a child being shot with a nail gun, according to the Missoulian.

The Montana based newspaper reported that he called some of the allegations listed by the state “deceptions,” or deviations from the truth.  Sutley confirmed that children were sent on disciplinary walks, but said they were never in improper conditions. 

“We can talk about therapeutic walks, we can talk about abuse, we can talk about neglect, but unless you’ve emotionally experienced living with these kids, you’re not going to get it,” he told the Missoulian. “Everything we’re here to do to stand against is what we’re being accused of.”

However, the paper noted that in May, a notice that the Montana Department of Labor and Industry issued to Ranch for Kids said: “Ranch for Kids provided conflicting information about the purpose of the walks. Mr. Sutley claimed the walks are not a punishment or behavior modification, but the walks are also repeatedly described by Mr. Sutley and Ranch for Kids staff as a consequence for severe behavior.”

In another statement to CNN, Sutley said the allegations are “selected fabrications of information from incredible sources,” He also argued that the children had already been through trauma and said the state was only causing more.

Sutley plans to fight the state’s decision to suspend the ranch’s license. He said Ranch for Kids has 10 days to respond and said there will be a hearing.

“We fully expect to go through and clear the air,” Sutley added. “We look forward to the opportunity to clear the air and be exonerated of the misconstrued allegations.”

The state took action against the center as part of new legislation that went into effect on July 1. Montana lawmakers passed a bill moving oversight of private alternative treatment programs to the state health department after an investigation by the Missoulian found the programs faced few sanctions despite several complaints. 

Prior to July 1, DPHHS did not have licensing authority over these programs. 

See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Missoulian) (NBC News

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SAT Drops Subject Tests and Optional Essay Section

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  • The College Board will discontinue SAT subject tests effective immediately and will scrap the optional essay section in June. 
  • The organization cited the coronavirus pandemic as part of the reason for accelerating these changes.
  • Regarding subject tests, the College Board said the other half of the decision rested on the fact that Advanced Placement tests are now more accessible to low-income students and students of color, making subject tests unnecessary. 
  • It also said it plans to launch a digital version of the SAT in the near future, despite failing to implement such a plan last year after a previous announcement.

College Board Ends Subject Tests and Optional Essay

College Board announced Tuesday that it will scrap the SAT’s optional essay section, as well as subject tests.

Officials at the organization cited the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the reason for these changes, saying is has “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce demands on students.”

The decision was also made in part because Advanced Placement tests, which College Board also administers, are now available to more low-income students and students of color. Thus, College Board has said this makes SAT subject tests unnecessary. 

While subject tests will be phased out for international students, they have been discontinued effective immediately in the U.S. 

Regarding the optional essay, College Board said high school students are now able to express their writing skills in a variety of ways, a factor which has made the essay section less necessary.

With several exceptions, it will be discontinued in June.

The Board Will Implement an Online SAT Test

In its announcement, College Board also said it plans to launch a revised version of the SAT that’s aimed at making it “more flexible” and “streamlined” for students to take the test online.

In April 2020, College Board announced it would be launching a digital SAT test in the fall if schools didn’t reopen. The College Board then backtracked on its plans for a digital test in June, before many schools even decided they would remain closed.

According to College Board, technological challenges led to the decision to postpone that plan.

For now, no other details about the current plan have been released, though more are expected to be revealed in April. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (The New York Times)

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Biden To Block Trump’s Order Lifting COVID-19 Travel Ban

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  • President Trump issued an executive order Monday lifting a ban on travelers from the Schengen area of Europe, the U.K., Ireland, and Brazil. 
  • Trump said the policy will no longer be needed starting Jan. 26, when the CDC will start requiring all passengers from abroad to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.
  • The move was cheered by the travel industry; however, incoming White House press secretary Jennifer Psaki warned that Biden’s administration does not intend to lift the travel restrictions. 

Trump Order End To COVID-19 Travel Ban

President Donald Trump issued an executive order Monday ending his administration’s ban on travelers from the Schengen area of Europe, the U.K., Ireland, and Brazil.

That ban was put in place last spring in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus in the U.S. In his announcement, however, Trump said the policy will no longer be needed starting Jan. 26, when new rules from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention go into effect.

Starting that day, the CDC will require all passengers from abroad to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.

The recommendation to lift the ban reportedly came from Alex Azar, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. According to Trump’s proclamation, “the Secretary reports high confidence that these jurisdictions will cooperate with the United States in the implementation of CDC’s January 12, 2021, order and that tests administered there will yield accurate results.”

It’s worth noting that the ban will stay in place for travelers from Iran and China. Still, Trump’s announcement was generally cheered by members of the travel industry who have been pushing to lift the ban and require preflight testing instead. 

Biden To Block Trump’s Order

Soon after the news broke, the incoming White House press secretary for President-elect Joe Biden, Jennifer Psaki, warned that Biden would block Trump’s order.

“With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” she wrote on Twitter.

“On the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26.  In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” she added.

With that, it seems unlikely that Trump’s order will actually take effect. 

It’s also worth noting that this is one of many executive orders Trump has issued just before inauguration day.

Source: Whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions

Some of these orders could soon be overturned once Biden takes office Wednesday. Biden is also expected to roll out his own wave of executive orders in his first 10 days as president.

See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (The New York Times) (CNN)

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New COVID-19 Variant Could Become Dominant in the U.S. by March, CDC Warns

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  • The CDC warned Friday that a new highly transmissible COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.
  • The strain was first reported in the United Kingdom in December and is now in at least 10 states.
  • The CDC used a modeled trajectory to discover how quickly the variant could spread in the U.S. and said that this could threaten the country’s already overwhelmed healthcare system.

CDC Issues Warning

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Friday that the new COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.

While it is not known to be more deadly, it does spread at a higher rate, which is troubling considering the condition the U.S. is already in. Cases and deaths are already on the rise in nearly every state and globally, 2 million lives have been lost to the coronavirus. 

The variant was first reported in the United Kingdom in mid-December. It is now in 30 countries, including the U.S., where cases have been located in at least ten states. Right now, only 76 cases of this variant have been confirmed in the U.S., but experts believe that number is likely much higher and said it will increase significantly in the coming weeks. It is already a dominant strain in parts of the U.K.

Modeled trajectory shows that growth in the U.S. could be so fast that it dominates U.S. cases just three months into the new year. This could pose a huge threat to our already strained healthcare system.

Mitigating Spread of Variant

“I want to stress that we are deeply concerned that this strain is more transmissible and can accelerate outbreaks in the U.S. in the coming weeks,” said Dr. Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases at the CDC told the New York Times. “We’re sounding the alarm and urging people to realize the pandemic is not over and in no way is it time to throw in the towel.”

The CDC advises that health officials use this time to limit spread and increase vaccination as much as possible in order to mitigate the impact this variant will have. Experts believe that current vaccines will protect against this strain.

“Effective public health measures, including vaccination, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, and isolation and quarantine, will be essential,” the CDC said in their report.

“Strategic testing of persons without symptoms but at higher risk of infection, such as those exposed to SARS-CoV-2 or who have frequent unavoidable contact with the public, provides another opportunity to limit ongoing spread.”

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (New York Times) (NBC News)

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