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Saturday, December 12, 2015

Holyoke Receiver Pledges to Work with Disability Advocates Following Abuse Allegations at School, Part 2 of 2

From MassLive

By Michelle Williams
December 9, 2015

Stephen K. Zrike Jr. (left) with Education Commissioner Mitchell
Chester. (Michelle Williams /

After a report documenting alleged physical and emotional abuse of students with disabilities at Peck School was released, Holyoke Public Schools Receiver Steven Zrike said the district is working to ensure all students learn in a safe school environment.

The Disability Law Center released a report Wednesday detailing alleged instances of abuse, including reports of students being thrown to the floor and locked in dark closets.

The Boston-based advocacy agency opened an investigation into Peck School after receiving a complaint in March regarding the treatment of children in a specialized therapy program known as the Therapeutic Intervention Program at Peck.

Zrike became the head of the district five months ago and said to MassLive Wednesday that "it's not the same program it was a year ago."

FULL REPORT: Investigation of Peck School details alleged abuse committed by school staff against disabled children in Holyoke

For the past several months, Peck has under new leadership. Nancy Athas, the former principal of Northampton High School who lives and once taught in Holyoke, replaced Justin Cotton as principal.

Center School, a private special education school in the city, has been contracted to help with therapeutic services for the school. The educational consulting group SchoolWorks is helping with day-to-day operations of the entire school.

Additionally, district officials said staff are undergoing further training and the use of restraints has decreased this school year.

Zrike said Wednesday that he pledged to work closely with DLC in ensuring Holyoke students receive a productive education.

Read Zrike's full statement below: 

Yesterday evening, I received a troubling report issued by the Disability Law Center (DLC) regarding the Therapeutic Intervention Program (TIP) at the Peck School.

I have had the opportunity to read the report in the last 24 hours, and it details an investigation that began in April 2015 and consisted of a series of onsite visits to the school and the TIP program. The report reveals that the program failed to provide our students with a safe environment, carry out individualized education programs, or train staff in managing difficult behaviors and de-escalating conflict. These findings constitute abuse and neglect under federal Protection and Advocacy statutes.

The report's findings are some of the same concerns that people repeatedly shared with me in the meetings I held with families, students and staff across Holyoke this summer and fall. These voices were a call to action for me, as I was deeply concerned about any reports suggesting that our students were not being provided with a high-quality educational experience in a safe and caring environment.

In partnership with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, we have taken bold actions to remedy the issues that ESE had already been looking into and which were mentioned during my review of the district over the summer and detailed by the DLC report released today. 

Specifically, we have taken the following actions since the end of the last school year:
  • replaced the school leadership at Peck;
  • secured outside expertise (partners) to guide our efforts;
  • created a more inclusive environment; and,
  • developed procedures for conducting restraints, effectively handling crises, and communicating with parents about restraints.

In particular, our collaboration with the Center School, a private special education school in Holyoke, has enhanced the therapeutic supports for the students in TIP-Peck. The school has implemented new procedures and training for staff on the use of restraints consistent with state regulations, and the majority of staff members have successfully completed the nonviolent crisis intervention training program. The use of restraints has decreased.

The school has also expanded parent outreach through regular home visits. More generally, per the turnaround plan, the district is reviewing the special education program in its entirety and TIP in particular with assistance from the nonprofit Education Development Center.

I pledge to work closely with DLC, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Holyoke community as we build on our progress to ensure that all Holyoke Public School students receive the high-quality education they deserve.

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