District rebuffs Idaho kids with behavior problems

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Six foster kids being treated for inappropriate sexual behavior were rejected from Idaho public schools after district officials blocked their enrollment, even though they aren’t in the custody of authorities.

The Department of Health and Welfare sought to place the children in high school, middle school and junior high in Mountain Home, a U.S. Air Force town in the desert 40 miles east of Boise.

The kids live at a treatment center that also houses children convicted of sexual offenses. The health agency says it has nowhere else for them, due to a shortage of foster homes. The agency wants them to attend public schools to help their recovery.

Mountain Home School District Superintendent Tim McMurtry denied the enrollment bid, contending the agency failed to give him case files so he could assess whether it was safe for them to attend classes.

“I requested their records, they just never provided them,” McMurtry said Thursday. Short of that, “I’m not going to have sex offenders in my schools.”

Officials with the agency, including Rob Luce, its family and community services administrator, and its attorney met with McMurtry, seeking to develop individual plans for the kids.

The agency had planned to provide their records, Luce said, but opted Wednesday to scuttle its attempt to enroll them as vocal opposition grew among district parents. In such a heated environment, DHW concluded, the children would likely be recognizable to classmates if they enrolled, something that could hinder their recovery.

“There was no reason to submit any individual case information since we were no longer seeking enrollment,” Luce said through a spokesman.

Typically, children who become Idaho wards due to inappropriate sexual behavior but aren’t in juvenile correction custody are put in therapeutic foster homes. The facilities are run by foster parents specially trained to accommodate special-needs kids whose behaviors may put themselves or others at risk.

Finding such foster parents willing to help care for troubled children with sexual behavior problems is difficult, said DHW spokesman Tom Shanahan.

“It’s tough enough just getting enough regular foster homes,” Shanahan said. “It has to be somebody who, like it or not, really is a saint.”

So these six children — from all corners of Idaho — were instead sent to Sequel, a private adolescent treatment center in Mountain Home that also has about 50 other children who are incarcerated in Idaho’s juvenile correction system for sexual misconduct.

Sequel has its own Idaho Department of Education-accredited school program, but DHW wanted the foster kids to attend regular public school since they are not incarcerated.

The health agency insists that remains the best way for the children to re-enter normal life, said spokesman Tom Shanahan, so it’s seeking alternatives.

“We feel like the best option for them, to continue their recovery, is actually attending public school — mainstreaming them into the public school system,” Shanahan said. “A lot of these kids have been abused and victimized, they’re receiving treatment, we think they should be given the same educational opportunity as any other child.”

Officials at Sequel, headquartered in Huntsville, Ala., didn’t return calls.

McMurtry said he and school board members are trying to ensure existing students remain safe from dangers posed by kids who have exhibited inappropriate sexual behavior in the past.

Now that the state agency has withdrawn its enrollment request, he considers the matter closed.

“It’s a moot point,” McMurtry said.

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