The ABC15 Investigators uncovered physical and sexual abuse allegations at a boarding school run at one time by Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu.
The DeSisto School used a variety of controversial disciplinary techniques.
Many of the practices were deemed to be “dangerous” and a “threat” to students by the Massachusetts Office of Child Care Services, or OCCS.
The OCCS spent years investigating and monitoring the school, gathering information through site visits and interviews with students and staff members.
The ABC15 Investigators compiled this list of punishments and other practices used by DeSisto staff through investigative reports, court documents and first-hand student accounts.
If students disobeyed DeSisto rules, the school sent students to be “cornered.” That’s when students were sent to sit in a metal folding chair facing a corner in the wall. The OCCS reported that the technique imposed “periods of isolation and seclusion for months at a time,” records show. While in the corner, students may not speak, make eye contact, receive communication from family members and may not attend classes.
The following is one “cornering” incident found by the OCCS: “DeSisto cornered one student, whose diagnoses included bi-polar disorder, ADHD, and impulse control disorder, for weeks on end. As a result, the student became depressed, his mood-stabilizing medication fell below therapeutic levels, and he began to defecate and urinate on himself. This student was taken from the corner to the hospital for treatment of pneumonia and was then returned from the emergency room to the corner, rather than his bed.” In response to the state’s investigation, the school continued to use the same technique, but renamed it “renewal” or reflecting,” records show.
The OCCS found that the DeSisto school deprives students of “human rights” when it “farms” them. “Farming” a student means they are sent out to a separate dormitory, called the “farm,” Records show, that “when DeSisto “farms” a student, he or she may not attend classes; must wear a ‘Dickie’ style jumpsuit; must go to the bathroom as a group with other farmed students; may be deprived of food and water for up to eight hours until he or she completes chores; and may have no contact with home, for months at a time." Some students have been farmed for more than a year.
Student accounts and state records detail a number of privacy concerns at the DeSisto school. The OCCS found that students were used to strip search other students, records show. Incidents were also discovered by state investigators who found that students had to use the toilet in the presence of staff and fellow students. The OCCS also wrote in a report that “DeSisto also has it students routinely take group showers, deny them privacy and leading to instances of sexual abuse.”
Former DeSisto students also described a punishment called “sheeting.” When students were “sheeted,” they were forced to strip down either naked or to their underwear and wear only a sheet.
“Student Restraint Issues”
According to OCCS reports, students were used to supervise fellow students in an inappropriate and unsafe manner. “The use of students to assist in restraints is an extremely dangerous practice, associated with a high risk of serious injury or death for the student being restrained and high risk of injury for an untrained student administrator,” records state. Using students to restrain other students does not meet state and nationally recognized standards.
The OCCS also found that “no staff member of DeSisto had the necessary training to assist in restraining a student.”
Court records and investigative documents also state that DeSisto “routinely restrains students for mere disobedience and for lengthy period of time.” According to the OCCS, incident reports at the school revealed:
-A student who had refused to stop leaning against a wall was restrained for several hours.
-A student was kept in a three-person restraint for an entire day.
-A student who had thrown a plate and got into a verbal argument was restrained for more than five hours.
Shifting is the practice of barricading students inside their rooms. Because of understaffing, the OCCS described this “dangerous practice” as “placing a mattress for a student or staff member in front of the dormitory bedroom door, thereby preventing students from exiting the room. DeSisto uses bars and furniture to blockade windows and also routinely places mattresses for students on the floor, to prevent runaways and as a means of discipline, thereby placing more students in a room than it can safely accommodate.”
Other Discipline / Human Rights Issues
The OCCS and former students said that food and drink were often withheld as punishment. In many cases, the OCCS found that students were isolated from outside contact. Records show, that students were not given mail or allowed to call and visit with family members.