A school for troubled teens is under scrutiny by state Health and Welfare officials, local authorities and worried parents after students there went on a violent rampage this week.
Five people were hospitalized after a riot at Northwest Academy, a remote school on some 200 acres south of Bonners Ferry. Authorities said about 20 students beat workers with fire extinguishers and damaged a car and buildings with an ax. Staffers fought back with flashlights.
“There is a lot of concern about it in the community. We’ve had former (academy) employees calling with information and giving us their opinions. We are looking at it very closely,” said Boundary County Sheriff Greg Sprungl.
No charges have been filed in the case. School staffers and students aged 13 to 17 still are being interviewed by a child protection worker and detectives.
A few parents have hired attorneys for their children. They say the school is giving them very little information about what happened and even fear some students are being ordered out of the school before investigators can talk to them.
“I was called and told my daughter needs to go home immediately and they would keep her a maximum of three days,” said one parent who did not want her name used. “I don’t think they want these kids questioned by the police because of how it might reflect on the school.”
The woman’s 17-year-old daughter was moved from the school along with at least two other students, but she was not told if her daughter was involved in the assault or damaging property.
School director Rich Geiger denied any attempts to keep students from being questioned.
“We have made no effort to curb accessibility to anyone especially the authorities,” Geiger said.
Mark and Barbara Levin live in Maryland and have a 16-year-old son at the school where tuition can run $6,000 a month. They were called by school officials and told there was a brawl at the campus. But the Levins got most of the details from their son.
“The first thing that came to mind was to pull your kid out,” Mark Levin said. They decided against that after their son said he was safe and staff members assured them changes were being made in the program.
Barbara Levin was told staff was added and some students were removed to another campus. The school had about 30 students enrolled and five staff members on duty the night the nearly two-hour riot erupted.
“We still have concerns and it’s a wait-and-see attitude for us on what to do,” Barbara Levin said. “We put him there to be safe and are concerned how it got to this point. I am paying good money to have things like this not happen.”
Still, the Levins praise the academy and are comfortable with the way it is handling the situation.
Several parents and former staffers at the school say the current staff was not properly trained in handling violent students. One student told his parents a gang formed at the school and took over the night of the riot.
Geiger said the school is not understaffed and all the workers are properly trained. They have to meet the requirements set by the state of Idaho which reviews the school every six months.
“Those who say that are accusing the state and Health and Welfare of being negligent because we operate under a license and are overseen by the those agencies,” he said.
Geiger said changes were made at the school but would not give specifics. He also said school officials are conducting their own internal investigation but do not plan to file any complaints against the students involved. That is up to the authorities, he said.
“We have a relationship with the families and will work with them on what is the most appropriate course of action.”
Northwest Academy is owned by CEDU Inc. a California based company. The company operates four schools in Boundary County and is one of the top five employers there.