Reports: DOJ investigating Milton Hershey School over allege violation of Disabilities Act

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An investigation into the Milton Hershey School has reportedly been started. The Philadelphia Inquirer is reporting   the United States Justice Department is trying to figure out if the school violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Inquirer says the investigation is examining whether the private boarding school fails to enroll children with physical disabilities and expels students with mental health problems.

Milton Hershey has released the following statement regarding this issue:

"The mission of Milton Hershey School is to help children from poverty acquire the academic, career and social-emotional skills they need to lead productive and fulfilling lives. We have a 107-year history of success in doing this. The substantial majority of our students have one or more disabilities – both physical and psychological – and qualify for accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In fact, the percentage of students we serve with disabilities is up to sixty percentage points higher than the incidence in the general U.S. population aged 5-17. We take very seriously the responsibility we have to meet their individual needs so they can be successful. Our number one priority is to ensure we are providing a nurturing environment where every child can overcome the struggles of poverty and reach his or her full potential. As part of that effort, we take great care to comply with all state and federal laws and regulations.
We have been under attack for many years by a very zealous antagonist who has aggressively solicited former students and lawsuits, while consistently lobbying state and federal regulators across the board, including the DOJ, to pursue claims against us. Sometimes he is successful in provoking “investigations,” although by his own admission, he has had little success in proving his inaccurate narratives. We have been in regular communication with the DOJ since 2012 when we began reporting on our continuing efforts to serve even more children with disabilities. We trust that the DOJ understands, as other state and federal regulators have learned, that indulging the delusions of a spiteful critic can prove challenging and time-consuming. Regardless of the source of any complaint, we always have and always will cooperate with our regulators to ensure our school is giving students the best education we can. We are proud of our work for 107 years to help children from poverty overcome great difficulties to succeed.
MHS’s annual health services expenditures exceed $11 million, and this school year, MHS will spend more than $3.66 million to support the psychological and behavioral care needs of our students. Our state-of-the-art 24-hour health center and in-school clinics are run by a team of 106 licensed health professionals, and the school accommodates a wide range of physical disabilities, including those required for children who are visually impaired, deaf and hearing impaired. MHS provides individual psychotherapy sessions for more than 700 students. The resources we dedicate to the health and wellbeing of our students far exceed those of any other boarding or day school, private or public. Our integrative approach to nurturing the whole child remains the key to MHS’s success. More on those services can be found in our white paper, “How Schools Can Help Break the Cycle of Poverty: A Whole Child Approach.”

FOX43 has also learned the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office has informed the Hershey Trust, the group which funds the $12 billion school, they are in violation of a school oversight agreement set forth in 2013.

Among the Attorney General's concerns:

  • Board members violating a Conflict of Interest Policy
  • Board compensation which exceeds Agreement parameters
  • Failure to hire board members with early childhood and at-risk youth education
  • Recent bylaw changes which abandoned a 10-year term limit for board members

The Attorney General's office told FOX43 if the 2013 oversight agreement is not met, it will seek legal action against the Hershey Trust.

FOX43 also obtained a letter written by the Hershey Trust's compliance officer and chief counsel, Marc Wooley. In it, Wooley cites a phone conversation with Hershey Trust and Milton Hershey School Board Chairman Robert Cavanaugh where Cavanaugh asked Wooley to "build a record of events that would enable him to release his 'suicide parachute' and 'take out' other board members."

Wooley also wrote that if the board did not take the Attorney General's recommendations seriously, he would "have no other option but to seek the assistance of state and federal regulators."

A spokesperson for the Hershey Trust responded with a statement, saying the Hershey Trust and Milton Hershey School boards "have a history of voluntarily and constructively working with the Office of the Pennsylvania Attorney General..." and after reviewing the letters obtained by FOX43, they "can be described as being written by disgruntled employees."Hershey Trust Statement