Emotions ran high Monday evening at a special informational meeting at the Jim Thorpe Area High School auditorium that had parents lining up to make comments and complaints about the inclusion of some troubled youth to their schools.
More than 200 concerned parents came to the meeting to make their voices heard regarding the potential closing of the academic portion of the Youth Services Agency-run residential treatment center, known as Camp Adams.
School security and Jim Thorpe police were on hand as parents and concerned residents filed into the auditorium with handouts of the Pennsylvania Code detailing "Educational Programs for Students in 'Non-Educational' Placements" in their hands.
Roughly 20 took their places in line behind two microphones to make statements regarding this issue.
At hand is a dispute between the Jim Thorpe Area School District, which has an obligation to educate all students within its borders, and the privately run Youth Services Agency, which has claimed that it has not received enough money from the district to keep educational operations going to keeps its "adjudicated juveniles" those who have been placed by the courts in its camp and out of the public schools.
Superintendent Barbara Conway read a statement about the school's obligations, the cooperative agreement between the YSA and the district, and a clarification of the money at issue.
"The law is very clear," Conway said as she went over the fact that all children must be able to attend public school unless they have been expelled from their last institution for weapons offenses, if they are court-ordered not to attend, or have a current Individualized Educational Plan or section 504 that states special placement.
Reports not timely
The YSA released a statement saying that the district has delayed payments due and does not receive enough to keep operating its on-site school.
Conway said the YSA has continually not given its school and student information properly or in a timely fashion to be reimbursed, and that the district tried to help YSA many times with different forms.
Also, she said that the district is not responsible for the financial troubles at the school.
"All claims that the district did not forward money in due time is false," Conway said.
Conway said that the district is working through its legal counsel and with state and local officials to find a solution, but could not elaborate on what those solutions might entail.
In the meantime, parents and residents in attendance were troubled by what many saw as putting criminals in the same schools as their children.
Residents of the camp, which is not a secure facility, have run away from the camp in the past and have been involved in crimes ranging from armed robbery to assault.
Hundreds of concerned parents
One parent, Kathy Schwartz, created a Facebook page, "Stand Up For Our Schools," to bring the matter greater attention. The page has already generated hundreds of comments from concerned parents and citizens alike, most stating their dislike of the thought of Camp Adams students being educated in the same classrooms as their kids.
Schwartz was in attendance and grew emotional as she spoke.
"All children should be given an opportunity to learn. Adjudicated juveniles should not be allowed" in the same schools, she said.
She pleaded through tears: "The YSA is extorting our school district … it's extortion and we hope you will not give into the threat."
Patrick Stella is a former law enforcement officer who worked at Camp Adams for two years and said he had been bitten, kicked and cussed out, which was worse treatment than in other jobs he held.
Many parents said they love the Jim Thorpe schools and don't want to lose the "Mayberry" feel of the area.
Many agreed that they think all kids deserve an education, but they vehemently oppose having Camp Adams kids integrated into the regular schools.
Betty Rowlands worked at YSA camps in the past as a quartermaster and said that there were once 80 staff members when she was there, and now there are barely 25.
She also said the camp used to be for local students, but now the camps are bringing in kids from Erie, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
"We don't need anybody else's problems," she said.
Several students spoke up, saying they didn't want to become like city schools, with metal detectors, police and threats of violence.
All agreed that absorbing the camp students into the schools would unduly burden the teachers and administrators, who are not trained to deal with these types of students, and would also create unease among the student populace and put kids at potential risk.
Former school board member Randy Smith said trying to put students who are used to highly structured programs as the one at the camp and bringing them to a less structured environment is "subjecting these kids to predictable failure."
If he still had a vote, Smith said he would say "No, they're not coming to our schools."
Charles Hartzel, who spoke after the official board meeting had started, said that he had worked in detention centers in Luzerne County and had helped send some youths to these camps.
Hartzel said it would be irresponsible to put students like this, who he claimed can be manipulative and sometimes violent, in the district schools.
The district, according to Conway, is considering all options available to keep the 47 students from the YSA out of the district, though it remains a work in progress.