Former Glen Mills campus plans to admit students in September

West Chester Area School District is charged with educating Clock Tower’s students. The district fears it doesn’t have enough time to prepare.

A view of a school building from afar on a cloudy day

The Glen Mills Schools in Glen Mills, Pa., is shown Thursday, March 7, 2019. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

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The former Glen Mills campus in Delaware County is planning on a fall reopening.

Clock Tower Schools, a residential facility for adjudicated youth, is eyeing a September date to begin admitting students.

Meanwhile, the West Chester Area School District (WCASD) is pulling together a legally compliant educational program, because the state has yet to authorize the school to teach students. Since Clock Tower is within WCASD’s territory, the responsibility to educate students falls on the school district.

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Andrew Faust, legal counsel for WCASD, said Clock Tower notified the district about its plans to accept several students a month starting in September. The provisional license allows the school to enroll up to 25 students.

A spokesperson for Clock Tower would not confirm the September opening, but said in a written statement that it is “preparing to serve youth on our campus in the very near future.”

“While we do not have a definitive start date to share at this time, we look forward to delivering a variety of trauma-informed services to meet the needs of our students. Through our collaborative approach we feel our services will complement the academic instruction students will receive from the school district,” the spokesperson wrote.

WCASD concerned about Clock Tower opening

Faust, WCASD’s legal counsel, has two major issues with the tentative start date.

“We’re having difficulty hiring teachers even for our conventional public school. And although we are attempting to hire teachers to teach Clock Tower, it is taking considerable time to do so. We’re working under a time crunch that we think was unnecessary because it took too long for Clock Tower and the Commonwealth itself to let us know that this opening was going to occur,” Faust said.

He added that the district has received conflicting information on whether the students will be confined to campus to receive their education.

WCASD does not know how many students require special education or English language learner instruction. Faust said school district officials  are working with a “moving target.”

“We are attempting to staff up a program and get the appropriate materials and equipment in place, not knowing exactly where we’re going to be teaching and whom we’re going to be teaching,” Faust said.

Clock Tower, a new legal entity, is an incarnation of the former Glen Mills Schools. The school currently employs at least eight individuals who previously worked at Glen Mills and its executive director was a longtime executive at the now-shuttered facility. The sheer number of ties between Clock Tower and the now-disgraced Glen Mills has generated a lot of criticism. Clock Tower has downplayed this relationship.

Glen Mills was once the nation’s oldest all-boys reformatory school before a wave of abuse allegations led to its closure in 2019. Clock Tower has been trying to start a new program at the facility since 2021. However, the state initially denied its application, but Clock Tower appealed. In January, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services did an about-face, granting Clock Tower a two-year provisional license through a settlement agreement.

West Chester ‘doubtful’ it can create legally compliant curriculum without state assistance

Faust said state agencies are not adequately checking in with WCASD regarding the district’s needs and readiness. He’s unsure if the district has enough time to create a comprehensive educational program in just a few months.

“We’re concerned. I can’t say with certainty that we will not be ready. And I am encouraged that Clock Tower, at least now, is cooperating and working with us to ensure that the start-up occurs gradually and that the students who are admitted are ones that can fit within the array of services we are able to get up and running. So we’re encouraged and we are hopeful — but we are also doubtful that something can be done that fully complies with the law that quickly,” Faust said.

Faust sent a letter to state officials in June asking them to delay the opening of Clock Tower — which was thought to be July — because the district was not ready. According to the WCASD’s timeline of events, Clock Tower was initially expected to be the sole party responsible for educating the students.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education and the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services responded, categorizing the district’s claims as “unfounded” and reminding district officials of their responsibilities.

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DHS and PDE responded to WHYY News’ request for comment by attaching the previous letter and providing a written statement.

“DHS remains committed to the health and safety of children at licensed facilities by ensuring that any service provider meets the requirements necessary for the safety and wellbeing of those in their care under DHS regulations, and DHS’ authority under the Settlement Agreement established increased oversight and provisions to monitor these requirements at Clock Tower. The Department of Education continues to provide ongoing technical support to the West Chester Area School District and remains committed to the health, safety, and welfare of all students,” the statement read.

Like Clock Tower, DHS and PDE would not confirm the September start date of the school.

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