Closure of another therapeutic boarding school in Montana



HELENA, Mont. (AP) – A therapeutic boarding school in northwest Montana that state inspectors have learned once made boys sleep outside in winter conditions without proper clothing as punishment, closed on Friday .

Staff members confirmed to the Montana State News Bureau on Tuesday that the 16-bed Wood Creek Academy near Thompson Falls was closing. A message was also posted on the program’s website, which was deleted on Friday.

Wood Creek Academy, a boarding school for boys aged 13 to 18, had been the subject of two complaints to the state in the past year and inspections revealed other violations.

The state health department sent inspectors to the boarding school in January in response to a complaint. Inspection revealed two boys ran away from school one January morning and Wood Creek Academy staff waited over an hour before calling law enforcement.

As punishment for running away, staff banned the boys from having any interaction with their peers for three days. Such punishment is prohibited by state regulations. The inspector reported that the boys were also sent to sleep in shorts and T-shirts in tents as nighttime temperatures plummeted to 28 degrees Fahrenheit (-2 Celsius).

A 17-year-old boy who snuck in on the night of August 2020 was located in Seattle about three weeks later. He had been at boarding school for more than two years, his mother told the Missoulian.

An investigation that year found that the program also used excessive physical exercise as a punishment, which is prohibited by state rules.

In March 2021, the state health department approved the Wood Creek remedial plan, which included installing a nighttime alarm and using checklists to document rounds every 30 minutes at night. . A corrective plan concluded in May called for better documentation.

The Department of Public Health and Human Services was aware of the closure of Wood Creek Academy, but spokesperson Jon Ebelt said the department had not revoked the facility’s license.

A series of Missoulian Journal’s investigations into the private therapeutic boarding school sector in Montana led lawmakers to hand over oversight of these programs to the Department of Health in 2019. Previously, they were mostly self-regulated by members of the industry. .

Within a month of taking over program regulation, the health department removed 27 children from the Ranch for Kids near Eureka and subsequently revoked their license. By the end of 2020, eight of Montana’s 19 programs were closed. With the closure of Wood Creek Academy, there remain nine accredited therapeutic residential programs.


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