The former flagship of behavioral schools in North Idaho has hoisted the white flag.
Rocky Mountain Academy in Naples, Idaho, will close its doors Monday. About 20 staff members will be laid off and its remaining 19 students will disperse to other institutions or return home, according to CEDU Educational Services, which owns the school.
Rocky Mountain Academy, which opened in 1982, was the first CEDU emotional growth boarding school in North Idaho, and the catalyst to an industry of behavioral schools for troubled teens in the Panhandle and neighboring Sanders County, Montana.
In the 1990s, the academy housed as many as 140 students from all over the nation. As recently as October, the boarding school had about 40 students, and will close with just 19 left.
Bob Naples, CEDU’s education president and chief operating officer, pinned the school’s demise on the company’s inability to find effective leadership. In addition, four key staff members recently resigned, said Julia Andrick, CEDU’s spokeswoman.
“It would be difficult to replace these positions in a timely manner and to allow us the assurances that our students would be safe and continue to receive a solid emotional growth education,” Naples said in a prepared statement.
CEDU has five other programs in North Idaho and employs about 500 people who now serve 163 students, Andrick said. Rocky Mountain’s closure does not affect the other programs, except for the few staff members and students who may move to the other two schools – Boulder Creek Academy and Northwest Academy. Tuition is about $5,700 a month.
Bonners Ferry Mayor Darrell Kerby said he didn’t know the particulars of the school closing, but said his primary concern was for the staff members who would lose their livelihood and the impact on the community.
CEDU is among the top five or 10 employers in Boundary County, he noted. The company also operates a short-term intervention program in North Idaho, as well as ASCENT, a six-week wilderness program, and Milestones, a transition program for students 18 and older in Coeur d’Alene. Other CEDU programs are in California and Vermont.
Recent litigation filed by several families against CEDU was not a factor in the closure of Rocky Mountain Academy, Andrick said.
More than two dozen parents filed lawsuits against Rocky Mountain Academy and Boulder Creek Academy in October, alleging misconduct and breach-of-contract issues.
The plaintiffs allege, among other complaints, that one boy was forced to dig a grave and lie in a closed coffin in the grave while staff members tossed dirt on it. They also allege that staff members called students degrading names such as “whore” and “fatty,” and failed to intervene when some students were hazed and beaten by other students.
At the time the lawsuit was filed, the plaintiff’s attorney told The Spokesman-Review one concern was the “lack of direction.”
“From our perspective, the problem was RMA (Rocky Mountain Academy) was going through school directors so quickly nothing has been consistent,” attorney Todd Reed said.
Lon Woodbury, a former RMA staff member who now is a referral specialist for emotional growth programs, said that the academy’s reputation was hurting, but not because of lawsuits.
“They seem to have lost themselves and haven’t been able to turn it around,” he said. “It’s been a lack of leadership. They’ve had a couple, three administrators and for one reason or another, it didn’t work out.”
In November 2002, CEDU paid a $300,000 settlement in another lawsuit filed by the families of two former students who alleged that the staff at Northwest Academy was poorly trained and abusive. That lawsuit was filed following a riot at Northwest Academy in 1997.
As Northwest Academy’s enrollment eclipsed that of Rocky Mountain Academy’s, the schools swapped campuses. Northwest Academy is located on the original grounds of Rocky Mountain Academy in Paradise Valley, next to Boulder Creek Academy.
Rocky Mountain Academy’s current site in Naples will close, but CEDU will maintain the grounds, Andrick said. It’s too soon to say what its future use will be, she said.
Meanwhile, CEDU plans to establish a museum at the original campus, featuring old Rocky Mountain Academy newspapers, photographs and memorabilia, such as the banners each class made as they graduated from the school.
“It’s helped a lot of families and students,” Andrick said of the academy.
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