Pa. Dept. of Human Services bats down Glen Mills Schools’ attempt to reopen under a new name — for now

The exterior of the Glen Mills Schools

The Glen Mills Schools is seen, Friday, March 27, 2020, in Glen Mills, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Got a question about life in Philly’s suburbs? Our suburban reporters want to hear from you! Ask us a question or send an idea for a story you think we should cover.

Since September, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services had been mulling over an application for licensure from the newly established Clock Tower Schools — which shares the same address and phone number as the shuttered Glen Mills Schools.

Glen Mills was the nation’s oldest reformatory school, but the DHS shut it down in 2019 after decades of abuse allegations boiled over into an all-out investigation.

Now, its resurrection attempt seems to have hit a substantial bump in the road.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

DHS confirmed to WHYY News in a statement on Wednesday that the application for licensure, which appeared to be a not-so-subtle effort to revive the controversial institution, has been denied.

“The application submitted by Clock Tower Schools was denied on April 4, 2022, because it did not meet all of the requirements for licensure. Generally, DHS has concerns over the organization’s ability to safely operate a child residential facility due to suitability of facilities and program structure. Clock Tower Schools is appealing this denial, and we cannot discuss further at this time due to the open appeal,” the statement read.

In a statement to WHYY News, a spokesperson for the Clock Tower Schools expressed disappointment in the denial but confidence in a successful appeal.

“While Clock Tower Schools is disappointed to not receive a license at this time, we are confident that our appeal addresses the issues DHS outlined and remain hopeful that we will be able to move forward and provide critically needed care and education for youth entrusted to our care,” the statement read.

There was a point in time when the Glen Mills Schools brought in students from all across the country to its facility in Delaware County. Now, students haven’t stepped foot in the facility in years.

Philadelphia City Councilmember Helen Gym was appointed to the Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice Task Force in 2020. The coalition of elected officials was formed in response to the wave of abuse allegations at facilities across the state, including Glen Mills.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Gym, who has been an advocate for juvenile justice reform, told WHYY News in a statement that she was “appalled at how flagrantly Glen Mills refused to change anything about itself other than its name.”

She added there was “no question” the state chose to deny licensing the Clock Tower Schools.

“But more seriously, more than three years after Glen Mills’ abuses came to full light, we are still waiting for a full investigation and accounting for the trauma and pain they inflicted on a number of youth trusted to their care, and we’re still waiting for changes in state oversight of youth residential facilities which cost counties tens of millions of dollars a year. We’re still waiting on the state legislature to enact the recommendations I helped craft through the Governor’s Juvenile Justice Task Force which met for more than 18 months,” Gym said.

She said she is “grateful” the license was denied, but called the current pace of change “unacceptable and dangerous.”

“The mere fact that Glen Mills pursued this re-licensing effort so defiantly makes the need for these reforms all the more urgent,” Gym said.

The Clock Tower Schools registered as a nonprofit back in July with the same principal address as the original Glen Mills, as first reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer.

However, the Clock Tower Schools has maintained that there are no ties between itself and the closed facility, which has been the target of lawsuit after lawsuit.

Even before the creation of the Clock Tower Schools, Glen Mills continued work behind the scenes without students in seats. Just three months after its 2019 closure, Glen Mills hired its first Black executive director.

At that time, then-acting director Christopher Spriggs, who started his career at Glen Mills as a trigonometry teacher in 1994, said he would welcome the challenge of re-opening the troubled school.

Get the WHYY app!

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal