A home for troubled kids in Massachusetts has shut down after years of problems requiring police intervention, including unreported sexual assaults.
Longview Farm, a private residential school in Walpole that serves students with "emotional, behavioral and/or learning difficulties," according to the school's website, will voluntarily close its doors to make "significant changes" to its personnel and program.
The Home for Little Wanderers, the nonprofit that operates Longview Farm, said it voluntarily decided to "hit the reset button" to revamp programs, staff and maybe even the types of kids that live and go to school there.
But the move is sudden and for many, including the kids, unexpected.
In-depth news coverage of the Greater Boston Area.
Mark Glovasky's heart breaks for the little boy he mentors.
"I can’t even begin to tell you what this poor boy has been through," he said. "These kids, all they have is the fact that they know they have a place to come to that’s safe."
Safety was a key concern for Walpole police and town leaders.
Police tell the NBC10 Boston Investigators that staff at the Walpole facility interfered with their investigations and put children at risk.
The problems started, town leaders say, when Longview Farm expanded in 2014. They went co-ed, and admitted kids as young as 6 and as old as 18. They offer day programs for kids from other schools, and a residential program that includes children in the custody of the state.
"When you look at the number of incidents, it was a nightmare to us," said Eric Kraus, chairman of the Walpole Board of Selectmen. "And quite frankly, it can't be that way."
According to a state audit, investigators found, among other things, a teacher who didn't have a license, a "serious incident" on a field trip that sent a child to the ER, kids put in restraints without proper documentation, and students gone missing.
In September, the state put the school on probation.
Police runs to the school are up 60 percent since 2014, jumping from 148 that year to 270 in 2017. Those runs include calls for assault, mental health disturbances, kids missing and sexual offenses.
"There has been issues with underreporting issues, or just not reporting issues to us at all," said Walpole Police Chief John Carmichael.
In 2014, the home, which has many kids in the care of the Department of Children and Families, failed to report a child-on-child rape.
Carmichael said even after that very public fallout, staff continued to interfere with serious investigations, including ushering out a witness talking to an officer.
"We’re in the middle of an interview, trying to get to the bottom of something and someone has been asked to leave the room and stop talking to the police, essentially," he said.
No one from the home would speak to us on camera.
In a statement, the school said, "Of the alleged sexual incidents at Longview Farm in 2017, all were investigated and only two were found to be supported. In each case, local police and DCF were notified immediately and the Home moved swiftly to take action. One instance resulted in a staff firing, and the other a change to supervisory structure."
But Carmichael insists police were not always notified immediately. And though the home or DCF may have dismissed cases, police weren't always given access to alleged victims or suspects to properly investigate.
"There are severe risks, because we can't give [the kids] the resources that they need, whether it be medical assistance, or seeing a clinician, whether it be a restraining order type of situation. Or being re-victimized," Carmichael said.
Not speaking directly to this allegation, the Home for Little Wanderers acknowledged challenges "which have prevented us from best serving the children in our care. This is unacceptable."
The Home added that it is making "significant changes to management and staff, program changes, updates to the physical campus and actively improving our working relation with local law enforcement."
In January, the Home named a new CEO, Leslie Sugg. And town leaders said she is driving change.
"Little steps. You take a couple steps forward and one back," Carmichael said.
Kraus, who stressed that the town supports the school and its mission, said he is hopeful for the future.
"We would want nothing more than for this to be resolved and for these kids to really prosper," he said.
The state told NBC10 Boston all of the kids have been put into new placements.
DCF would not comment, saying by law any investigations are confidential.
Around the state, the Home for Little Wanderers operates a number of respected programs with good reputations.
They hope to make changes at Longview and re-open in the fall, though they would need to apply for new licenses from the state.