Wednesday, June 20, 2018  
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COLUMBIA (AP) — An embattled residential school for troubled youth began shutting down an outdoor education program this week as part of an agreement with the Tennessee Department of Children's Services.

Magnolia Academy in Culleoka will end its 14-year-old Wilderness Program, which gave 30 children, mostly wards of the state, an experience in outdoor living and self-reliance, The Daily Herald newspaper reported.

In April, the academy was the subject of seven separate investigations by DCS, which refers troubled children to the academy for treatment.

DCS officials will not comment on the nature of the investigations, but spokeswoman K. Danielle Edwards said several of the probes continue.

In July 2004, teaching assistant Rhonda Woody, 34, was indicted on sexual battery charges after an alleged sexual relationship with a 16-year-old boy at the academy.

Early in 2005, Larry Dicus, 29, a former counselor, smuggled a camcorder inside the facility and asked a 17-year old girl to tape other girls in what proved to be sexual behavior. In April, a female counselor was suspended for alleged "inappropriate actions" with a male student.

The Maury County Sheriff's Department said 11 children ran away from the academy in the past year. Seven were returned to Magnolia Academy. The other four were arrested when they were discovered breaking into a car.

Edwards said that beginning April 23, the DCS moved to feeze admissions into the Wilderness Program. It then began negotiations with Magnolia Academy and its parent company, ResCare of Louisville, Ky., to bring the program up to DCS's requirements.

Although Magnolia Academy officials were receptive and cooperative, they did not meet expectations quickly enough to satisfy DCS investigators, Edwards said.

Magnolia Academy Executive Director Anne-Michele Oliver said the problem was philosophical.

"The philosophy of the department is such that models that are about the community, closer to family-type settings, are the preferred models," Oliver said.

The 45 staff members in the Wilderness Program will all be let go during the 30-day closing process, ResCare spokeswoman Nel Taylor said. Oliver said the fate of the 30 children in the program will depend on each child's particular circumstance.

The academy will continue to run group homes, an emergency shelter and a fostercare program — models Oliver said are more in keeping with DCS's philosophy.


Information from: The Daily Herald,