School Climate & Safety

Oversight Sought for Behavior-Altering Schools

By John Gehring — November 02, 2004 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A California congressman is calling for greater oversight of behavior-modification schools in foreign countries that serve U.S. students, after authorities abruptly shut down several facilities in Mexico.

Mexican officials closed Casa by the Sea, a 538-student school in Ensenada, Mexico, that specializes in behavior modification for troubled teenagers, on Sept. 10, along with two smaller schools nearby that worked with youths with drug addictions and other challenges. Most students at the facilities were from the United States.

According to the American Consulate General’s office in Tijuana, Mexico, authorities from Mexican child-protective services and other agencies closed the schools. They cited evidence of expired medications for students; unauthorized use of a pharmacy at one of the schools; employees’ inability to present evidence of diplomas or professional licenses; and other procedural problems.

‘Ninth Closing’

Casa by the Sea, located 50 miles south of San Diego, is a private residential school that is one of several under the umbrella of the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools. The St. George, Utah-based association has affiliated schools in the country of Jamaica and in Montana, New York state, South Carolina, and Utah that serve about 2,000 students. The private schools, which charge from $2,400 to $4,400 a month, offer a structured program for students who have encountered academic and social problems in traditional schools.

Affliated Schools

Apart from Casa by the Sea, recently closed in Mexico, the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools has affiliated behavior-modification facilities in Jamaica and at several U. S. sites.

  • Tranquility Bay Specialty Boarding School
    St. Elizabeth Parish, Jamaica
  • Carolina Springs Academy
    Due West, S.C.
  • Majestic Ranch
    Randolph, Utah
  • Spring Creek Lodge Academy
    Thompson Falls, Mont.
  • Cross Creek Center for Boys and Cross Creek Manor for Girls
    Southern Utah
  • Academy at Ivy Ridge
    Ogdensburg, N.Y.

SOURCE: World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools
Web site:

U.S. Rep. George Miller of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, has sent several letters to both the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Justice expressing concern over alleged abuses at several WWASPS schools. The closure of Casa by the Sea “marks the ninth closing of a facility owned or managed by the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs,” Rep. Miller wrote in a Sept. 28 letter to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

“Serious allegations have been raised,” he wrote, “about hundreds of American children who have been physically and emotionally abused, including being subjected to excessive physical restraint, solitary confinement, overcrowding, malnutrition, and denial of medical services, all while under the care of WWASPS facilities abroad.”

Officials from the State Department and the Justice Department have said in several letters to Rep. Miller that they lack jurisdiction over privately owned facilities outside the United States. The only action that the State Department has taken, according to Mr. Miller, was a 1998 request the agency made to the Samoan government to investigate allegations of abuse at a WWASPS facility in its country, which ultimately led to the closure of a behavior-modification facility.

Last year, Costa Rican authorities raided the Academy at Dundee Ranch, a WWASPS behavior-modification facility largely attended by U.S. students, after allegations of physical and mental abuse of children at the school. The facility’s owner subsequently closed the school. No charges have been filed against the owner or other teachers.

Allegations Denied

Ken Kay, the president of the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools, said no documented cases of physical or mental abuse had been found at Casa by the Sea during its seven years of operation.

“We have been inspected year after year by immigration officials, taxation officials, and U.S. Consulate officials over and over, and there has never been any substantiation of abuse,” Mr. Kay said. The allegations of abuse at other schools that are a part of the group also have no merit, he said, and come from “a handful of disgruntled past clients.”

He said he is in ongoing meetings with Mexican officials, and hopes the owners of Casa by the Sea will be able to reopen the school.

“I understand Mr. Miller’s concerns, but he has disregarded my many invitations to him or his staff to visit any of my schools with or without me, announced or unannounced,” Mr. Kay said.

An Obligation?

Howard Davidson, the director of the American Bar Association’s Center on Children and the Law, in Washington, said the federal government has an obligation to protect U.S. students abroad. “We need to be assured that any American children who are in education facilities are not being ill treated,” he said. “That is a legitimate focus of the federal government.”

Rep. Miller said he was frustrated by a lack of action from the Justice Department, particularly after a recent National Institutes of Health panel found that boot camp-style programs, group detention centers, and other “tough love” programs often exacerbate problems for youths at risk of delinquent behaviors.

“A Justice Department that has been as aggressive in prosecuting people suspected of terrorism should have little trouble finding a credible basis for intervening to protect American children,” he said in a statement last week. If the Justice Department fails to act, Mr. Miller added, he will introduce legislation that would “expand federal authority to regulate overseas commercial activity by U.S. companies involving minor children.”


Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
Teacher Perspectives: What is the Future of Virtual Education?
Hear from practicing educators on how virtual and hybrid options offer more flexibility and best practices for administrative support.
Content provided by Class
Reading & Literacy Webinar How Background Knowledge Fits Into the ‘Science of Reading’ 
Join our webinar to learn research-backed strategies for enhancing reading comprehension and building cultural responsiveness in the classroom.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety What the Tragedy in Nashville Reveals About School Safety
A rapid response, security measures in the building, and warning signs before the attack offer lessons on safety.
9 min read
Families leave a reunification site in Nashville, Tenn., on March 27, 2023, after a shooting at Covenant School in Nashville.
Families leave a reunification site in Nashville, Tenn., on March 27, 2023, after a shooting at The Covenant School.
John Amis/AP
School Climate & Safety What We Know About the Nashville School Shooting Victims
The Nashville community mourned the loss of three children and three adults after a shooter attacked The Covenant School.
4 min read
A woman and child bring flowers to lay at the entry to Covenant School which has becomes a memorial for shooting victims, Tuesday, March 28, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn.
A woman and child bring flowers on March 28, 2023, to the entry to The Covenant School in Nashville, Tenn., where six people were killed in a mass shooting the day before.
John Amis/AP
School Climate & Safety 3 Students, 3 Staff Dead in Shooting at Private Elementary School in Nashville
The attack at The Covenant School was the 13th school shooting this year that resulted in injuries or deaths.
3 min read
An ambulance leaves Covenant School in Nashville, Tenn., on March 27, 2023. Officials say three adults and three children were killed in a shooting at the private Christian grade school in Nashville. The suspect is also dead after a confrontation with police.
An ambulance leaves The Covenant School in Nashville, Tenn., on March 27, 2023, after a shooting at the private Christian school killed three students and three staff members. The shooter is also dead after a confrontation with police inside the school.
John Amis/AP
School Climate & Safety School Shooting Prompts Denver to Bring Back Armed Officers
Denver's superintendent this week said he was ready to face the consequences of going against district policy following two shootings.
3 min read
Students leave East High School following a school shooting on March 22, 2023, in Denver. Two school administrators were shot at the high school after a handgun was found on a student subjected to daily searches, authorities said.
Students leave East High School following a school shooting on March 22, 2023, in Denver. Two school administrators were shot at the high school after a handgun was found on a student subjected to daily searches, authorities said.
Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via AP