Unrest at Elmore Academy
Elmore Academy officials want to meet again with those of the Faribault and Martin County juvenile justice system following their decision not to send youths to the facility.
Fairmont defense attorney Bill Grogin, who is contracted as a public defender for the two counties, has represented at-risk teens from the academy.
Grogin says the past seven years he’s heard frequent complaints from children and parents about the facility and has expressed their concerns during court hearings.
“When children were brought to court, too often they were in tears, pleading with their parents to take them home and with me to make sure they did not have to return to YSI,” he says.
“The primary complaint I’ve heard is that these kids are scared to death of staff members. More recently, children at YSI have also become frightened of other children there,” he adds.
Grogin has been told a Faribault County youth had his jaw broken by another YSI student within 24 hours of arriving there.
Karen Klabunde, administrator at the academy, did not return phone calls from the Register for comment.
Attempts to contact officials at the parent company Youth Services International headquartered in Sarasota, Fla., also were unsuccessful.
Grogin says he understands the need to address problems at YSI came to a head late last month.
That’s when Martin County District Court Judge Robert Walker ordered county authorities to remove four juveniles from facility.
“People working with kids at YSI are realizing it is not a safe place to send them,” says Grogin.
Elmore Academy literature describes the facility as providing residential treatment for at-risk males and females ages 13-19.
The academy is licensed by the Minnesota Department of Corrections. Teens are placed there through a court order, CHIPS (Child In need of Protection Services) petition or voluntary placement overseen by Human Services.
YSI also houses children on a temporary basis, such as those who are runaways or truants.
Grogin says incidences of violence between students and against staff members at YSI have been on the upswing.
“Confrontations at YSI have been permitted to escalate unnecessarily, more so than in the past,” he says.
Grogin says part of the problem is lack of proper supervision and not separating teens based on risk level or age .
“Most of our kids don’t have a violent background, but they are mixed with those from the Twin Cities area who do,” he says. “Many of us are concerned that they are falling prey to those kids.”
Expected to attend the March 21 meeting will be Walker, Faribault County District Court Judge Douglas Richards, County Attorney Troy Timmerman and representatives from the probation and public defenders offices, Human Services and law enforcement officials.