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The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services has reached a settlement agreement with the Clock Tower Schools, clearing the way for the entity to operate at the site of the former Glen Mills Schools.
The Clock Tower Schools, which includes eight individuals with ties to Glen Mills, has been trying to open on the grounds since July 2021. The two entities share a phone number, address, and attorney. The state Department of Human Services denied the Clock Tower Schools application for licensure in April 2022, which prompted the nonprofit to file an appeal.
Now, DHS has shifted its stance on the Clock Tower Schools’ attempt to revive Glen Mills.
In a written statement to WHYY News, DHS spokesperson Brandon Cwalina said the settlement sets new parameters to allow both DHS and an independent body to monitor the facility.
“We thoroughly review every license application to assess the applicant’s ability to safely operate a child residential program, and in this instance, DHS determined that a settlement agreement with Clock Tower Schools is the appropriate path forward,” Cwalina said. “This innovative settlement agreement sets a new standard for oversight and accountability and it will provide DHS with additional safeguards to ensure every child is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”
DHS entered into the settlement agreement on Jan. 13 — just days before the Chester County Intermediate Unit reached its own settlement with hundreds of students who experienced physical and emotional abuse at Glen Mills.
Legal action is ongoing between former students and the lawsuit’s other defendants, which include former employees of Glen Mills Schools, and officials with DHS and the state Department of Education. In addition to abuse, the lawsuit also claims that the school violated students’ education rights.
DHS has granted the Clock Tower Schools a provisional two-year license to operate its residential and day treatment programs. The state is also mandating the Clock Tower Schools pay for an independent monitor, Justice By Design.
The independent monitor will have office space on campus and Clock Tower Schools must give Justice By Design full access to the buildings as well as child and staff records. Justice By Design staff will also be allowed to interview staff and children.
The department supported the Clock Tower Schools’ stance that it is a new entity, separate from Glen Mills. However, it did acknowledge that there are ties between the two.
According to DHS, all of the individuals who previously worked for Glen Mills have been vetted and have affirmed, under penalty of law, that they were not involved in and did not have first-hand knowledge of the child abuse took place.
Clock Tower’s executive director Christopher Spriggs began his career at Glen Mills in 1994 as a trigonometry teacher and was named head of the school in the summer of 2019 after the school was shut down.
Katy Otto, spokesperson for the Juvenile Law Center, whose lawyers are among those representing former Glen Mills students in their lawsuit, said the center and its partners are “deeply troubled” by DHS’s decision to allow the Clock Tower Schools to operate at Glen Mills.
“Based on available information, a team of individuals who worked in or were in the leadership of a notoriously abusive institution that violated students’ education rights will be in charge of this same institution under a new name,” Otto said, speaking for both the center and the Education Law Center.
She said the center urges Gov. Josh Shapiro to reconsider the decision.
“Many Philadelphia youth were harmed at this facility and we hope Philadelphia continues to be very cautious about sending youth there,” she said.
Under the agreement, the Clock Tower Schools are not allowed to hire any additional former Glen Mills employees or independent contractors who worked with the school.
Cwalina said Pennsylvania is facing a “critical shortage of beds and facilities for juvenile care.”
“There has been a 29% decrease in beds in secure facilities over the past three years, and this has led to waitlists that delay treatment for these youth as our facilities exceed their licensed capacities. DHS is working to expand the number of beds available to our young people so that we can help them get the support they need and back on a path to success,” Cwalina said.
Clock Tower spokesperson Jeff Jubelirer said in a written statement that the school “welcomes the opportunity to provide critically needed residential treatment, trauma-informed care, and education for children in need.”
Clock Tower Schools will still have to reach agreements with local authorities in order to open its doors.
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