It’s not easy being a public school district in Pennsylvania. It appears the West Chester Area School District is facing another resource challenge – this time it’s the diversion of funds to provide educational services for the court-ordered students of a soon-to-be reopened reform school in Glen Mills.
Wait, what reform school?
I said the same thing. Apparently, it’s newly licensed this year. It’s called the Clock Tower School and it is a scaled-down version of the former Glen Mills School – same location and all. For those of you not up on the educational history of the county, the Glen Mills School was the country’s longest-running reform institution until it was shut down amid a myriad of abuses in 2019. Now, some of its former leaders are hoping to bring reform education back to the county only, Clock Tower is not a school according to its state license. It’s a “residential treatment facility.” The education portion would fall under the responsibility of the WCASD.
The West Chester School District, as you can imagine, is not thrilled with this idea and to make matters worse courts could begin sending students to the school as soon as – tomorrow.
“West Chester has completed its fiscal year 2023-2024 budgeting, and at this late date, it could not possibly create a budget for the scale of programming required here,” WCASD lawyer Andrew Faust said in a letter obtained by the Daily Local.
This sounds crazy. What does the state say?
Well, it appears both the Dept. of Human Services and the PA Dept. of Education support the facility’s opening and dispute some of the concerns raised by WCASD namely in regards to the immediate financial impact. While the district has been using 65 students in its appeals, the actual number of students that would initially be housed at the facility is believed to be as few as five – with a maximum of 25 students allowed in the first six months under the terms of the Clock Tower provisional license. The Glen Mills School, by contrast, could house up to 400 students at the time of its closing.
Both departments also maintain regardless of the idealness of the situation it’s WCASD responsibility to educate these students whether it’s in person, virtually, or in a hybrid situation.
“It is imperative that all host school districts, including West Chester Area School District, work with residential facilities that are opening within their boundaries to ensure that both the school district and the residential facility are fulfilling their legal responsibilities in a timely manner,” the departments stated in a letter shared by the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Pennsylvania has seen a 30 percent reduction in beds at secure juvenile facilities. Leaving the state facing lengthy waitlists of youth requiring the services proposed to be provided by Clock Tower.
So, what’s next?
West Chester is seeking a one-year delay in Clock Tower’s opening. While, that idea is supported by youth advocacy groups, including those representing the plaintiffs in the original Glen Mills case, both the state and Clock Tower do not seem convinced that full-time is needed. Although, Clock Tower representatives stated the facility would not open until the education plans were finalized.
In the end, the decision will lie with the judges.
Want more background? The Daily Local ran a very nice article outlining all sides – you can find that here. There was also an extensive write-up in the Philadelphia Inquirer and coverage of the Glen Mills School student’s settlement that required the Chester County Intermediate Unit to pay out $3 million.