Derrick v. Glen Mills Schools

Juvenile Law Center, Education Law Center, and attorneys from Dechert, LLP, filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of hundreds of youth who suffered at the hands of Glen Mills leadership and staff.  Defendants in the lawsuit are Glen Mills Schools, Glen Mills Leadership, Pennsylvania state officials, the Chester County Intermediate Unit, and individual Glen Mills staff who harmed the Named Plaintiffs. The lawsuit alleges that, in violation of constitutional and state rights, these youth were subjected to extreme physical violence and psychological abuse and deprived of an education, including special education services. This shocking abuse had an especially dire impact Black youth, who were disproportionately sent to Glen Mills, and students with disabilities whose educational rights were ignored.

Glen Mills leadership created and maintained a culture of fear and abuse, then ignored the medical and educational needs of youth. “Counselors” and other staff physically assaulted youth, encouraged youth to beat up other youth, and failed to intervene in assaults. Facility leadership and staff took all measures to protect the school’s reputation—intimidating youth and their families into silence.

Youths’ general and special education rights were routinely violated. School-aged youth were offered nothing more than a GED book or required to sit quietly at a computer in a self-directed, one-size-fits-all, substandard limited credit recovery program. This program provided limited curriculum and no live instruction. There were no or almost no actual teachers. The education program at Glen Mills deprived students with disabilities of their legally-protected interest in a free and appropriate public education. 

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (PA-DHS) licenses, oversees, and regulates child residential facilities as defined by 55 Pa. Code Ch. 3800 to protect the health, safety and well-being of children receiving care in a child residential facility. Despite 18 publicly documented incidents of staff on youth abuse between March 2014 and January 2017 alone, PA-DHS failed to take meaningful steps to protect children at Glen Mills.

Only after Philadelphia Inquirer’s Lisa Gartner brought the culture of abuse into the public eye, in March 2019, did PA-DHS finally issued an Emergency Removal Order to protect youth at Glen Mills from abuse, and eventually revoked the facilities’ licenses on April 8, 2019. The failure of PA-DHS officials to provide sufficient oversight and to continue to license the facility despite Glen Mills’ continued violations of state regulations placed Plaintiffs and all putative Class Members perpetually in harm’s way.

Officials at the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) and the Chester County Intermediate Unit (CCIU) allowed Glen Mills’ education program to operate in the shadows, ignoring its flagrant violations of youths’ education rights. PDE failed to fulfill its duties as the State Education Agency and deprived the children at Glen Mills of a legally compliant education to which they are entitled. Similarly, CCIU, as a local educational agency, failed to oversee or be involved in education in any way and routinely failed to participate in the special education process or fulfill its duties under federal and state disability laws.

Over the summer multiple defendants asked the court to dismiss the claims filed. On December 20, 2019 Judge Bartle of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania issued an opinion and order allowing nearly all of the claims to move forward, including claims over the abuse and lack of medical treatment, deprivation of education, and disability discrimination. Significantly, the court upheld the right of youth in the juvenile justice system to receive an appropriate and meaningful education, meaning that Plaintiffs will be able to seek compensatory education services in addition to monetary damages. The court also specifically upheld the right of children with disabilities to receive an individualized program of special education services and to be free from discrimination and abuse based on their disabilities. Consequently, students can continue to pursue their claims that they were harmed by a systemic and wholesale failure to provide special education services to potentially hundreds of minors placed at Glen Mills.

We are currently in the discovery phase of litigation.