A private Utah school is fighting against state regulation, arguing it is not a "therapeutic" facility - which are covered by a new law that seeks to crack down on the state's thriving teen help industry.
Administrators at Whitmore Academy in Nephi say they run a boarding school, not a treatment facility catering to troubled teens. They are asking for an exemption to the new licensing category, which goes into effect on May 2.
But state Human Services licensing director Ken Stettler believes "they're hiding behind the moniker of a boarding school" to avoid state oversight.
"All the information they've provided to parents of kids there is they provide counseling for emotional growth and behavioral changes. They cater to kids who have failed in their settings at home," said Stettler.
The new law defines "therapeutic schools" as serving students "who have a history of failing to function at home or public school" and that offer "room and board and specialized structure or treatment related to a disability or emotional development."
Matt Sudweeks, who owns Whitmore with his wife, Cheryl, says he has gotten out of the teen-help business. Whitmore formerly also operated a residential treatment center. But Sudweeks surrendered the center's license last December after a student alleged he was physically and verbally abused at Whitmore. [Emphasis added]
Utah's Division of Child and Family Services substantiated eight counts of abuse and neglect. The facility is still under criminal investigation by the Juab County Attorney's Office. [Emphasis added]
Whitmore's attorney, Matt Hilton in Kaysville, says the school - now enrolling 32 students, ages 12 to 17 - employs an educational counselor, but does not submit students to therapy.
Said Sudweeks, "We're licensed with state Board of Education as a boarding school. We cater to kids having trouble in public school system."
Stettler says Whitmore is the only one of five schools under review for regulation to balk at the new rules.
Whitmore, located in a historic mansion on Nephi's Main Street, also was recently cited with numerous fire code violations.
Brent R. Halladay, assistant state fire marshal, says the school has until mid-May to update its automatic sprinkler and fire alarm systems, build a new set of stairs to provide more than one exit, install fire extinguishers and repair electrical problems. Halladay says the Sudweeks have "been very cooperative." But violations were such that, until they are corrected, Sudweeks is required to have someone keep fire watch over the building every day from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m.
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