Follow Us on Twitter

The Sound of Silence

One of the questions The Echo seeks to answer is:  what is the sound of silence?  We urge our audience to bow your heads in a moment of silence for Delaware State Police Cpl. Stephen J. Ballard.

Category: 0 comments

2nd chances are rare. 4th even rarer.

On the racetrack, everyone knows that
only the first place finisher wins the golden purse.
The story isn't nearly over yet.
Category: 0 comments

Oz Receives a Reprieve - Earns 1 year License.

One day before the second license expired, May 15, 1982, it was announced that the school would receive yet one more conditional license - for 30 days.  On June 16, 1982, Au Clair received its fourth provisional license - for five days.  Though more than a year had passed since Au Clair had lost its permanent license, the State of Delaware just couldn't bring themselves to close school. In those last 35 days, Mazik was unavailable for comment because he was in Florida.

And then, on June 22, 1982, it happened -

Oz received it reprieve.
Category: 0 comments

The Magical Mazik aka the Wizard of Oz

The Dodgers may have ripped the Phillies and Carter may have promising a new tax package, Delaware's big headline on August 27, 1980 was Au Clair's License Restored on Trial Basis by Charles S. Farrell.

After operating the non-licensed facility for more than a year, Mazik had won a six month Provisional License. The state attributed the concession to Mazik's hiring of an independent Program Manager, Dean Alexander.

Yet, Mazik still wasn't satisfied.  Though he spoke only through his attorney and the parents of his students, his displeasure was evident. It was a demeanor both staff and state department members knew too well.

To Rammuno's great dismay, he may have spoken much too soon.  On December 6th, 1980, the Margaret Kirk reported that Mazik's new program manager, Dean Alexander was no longer with company.  He had lasted less than six months. Au Clair espoused that he left Delaware due to a critical illness of a family member in California. 

Mazik quickly replaced him with Leonard I. Sains, a special education-alist out of New Jersey who had made a career out "job hopping" through the special needs industry.  He landed in Delaware, fresh from his executive directorship at The Early Childhood Learning Center of New Jersey. Sains did provide value to Au Clair, he had accumulated tremendous education and experience working with the severely challenged.  He wasn't just a warm body.  When Mazik went to the state in 1981 to request an extension on his provisional license, Sains qualifications scored Au Clair another opportunity to continue to operate.

By 1982, Au Clair was operating on its second conditional license and holding their breath.  One day before the second license expired, May 15, 1982, it was announced that the school would receive one more conditional license - for 30 days.  On June 16, 1982, Au Clair received yet another provisional license - for five days.

Mazik was unavailable for comment.  He was in Florida.

Category: 0 comments

2017 Update: Advoserv Fades into BellWeather Behavior Health

In the four months since Janaia Barhart mysteriously died at one of Delaware's Advoserv homes, the company has rebranded as Bellweather Behavior Health.

Still, that doesn't change history. And some stories simply can't be hidden behind a name change. Fifty cents to any reader who can name the folks in the photo below:

Category: 0 comments

Parents, Professionals, Magic Mazik, and the Long Road to a Conditional License

10/18/1979 NJ - The State's decision to deny Au Clair a license for the second time did nothing to end the controversy or close the school. Several parents began exploring legal action against the state for "unnecessary interference in their children's welfare." While sifting through future articles never produced any evidence that such a suit was filed, it did reveal Au Clair had a long, quiet road yet to travel with several states deeply vested in the outcome.

While Rammano insisted that Ken Mazik would come out fighting, Mazik never made a spoke publicly. He existed quietly in the shadows and let his attorney, his Au Clair parents, his sending states be the official voice of the battle for Au Clair.

On October 30, 1979, Rammuno filed the first step to an administrative appeal: The Arbitrary and Capricious Clause, defined by Wikipedia as "doing something according to one’s will or caprice and therefore conveying a notion of a tendency to abuse the possession of power." This clause is a legal lynchpin. I knew that before I devolved to Wikipedia as a legitimate source. In most legal administrative procedures appeals can only be filed under these three little words and the filing party is tasked with proving that an action by a public body was "arbitrary and capricious" in order for their appeal to move forward. "Arbitrary and Capricious" is so important to our legal system that it made its way into Title 14, Chapter 1 of the education code that governs our state.

Rammuno also demanded that the state turn over all files so that Au Clair could determine the exact allegations against the school. Finally, in March of 1980, after several negotiations, the state announced that it would reconsider Au Clair's licensing application. Despite losing its license nine months prior, Au Clair had been permitted to continue to operate.  Finally, the school had reached an agreement with the state - it would drop its appeal if the state agreed to re-evaluate the school and the changes that had occurred in the five months previous:
  • The hiring of an independent program director
  • Increased staffing
  • Organized two outside review committees
  • Collaborated with experts on how to improve its program
  • Raised tuition from $18,000 to $26,000 to financially support the new changes to the school's programming.
In return, the state speculated that Au Clair would likely earn a conditional license.  The state continued to have concerns and while staffing and training was strongly stressed, there were concerns regarding the independent program director, Dean Alexander, whom Mazik picked to oversee the school.  At the time of the new review Alexander had only been in the position for a short period of time and while he was highly regarded, the impact of his efforts could not be measured so soon after his hiring.

That should have been the end of the story. 

Category: 0 comments

They may have failed to be licensed...

But, Au Clair continued operating.

The state did not take actions to close the school.
Category: 0 comments

The Bells Before the Knell

*All Newspaper Clips in this Blog Series are Attributed to the Archives at the News Journal, where you, too, can purchase a one month membership for access to Journal related papers dating back to the 1800s.

Three days before Mazik would learn his efforts were far short of the state's expectation, another unrelated investigation was concluding concerning the care at Au Clair.  Inspectors from New York had once again deemed "the school grossly inadequate" in a preliminary report released to the News Journal by the NY Department's legal affair office.  On Sept. 30, 1979, the Journal released exerts from interviews with one of the evaluators.

New York had cited Au Clair for:
  • Failing to have enough teachers at the school
  • Failure to hire certified teachers
  • Failure to maintain an appropriate group to teacher ration
  • Failure to have enough school supplies and materials to properly educate the students
  • Finding that students would sit idle for up to 40 minutes while the staff worked with other students
  • Failure to employ health and physical experts
  • Failure to have developed long-term plans for students (a NY requirement but not a DE requirement.)
  • Failure to involve parents in individual program planning
  • A requirement in contradiction with the New York/Au Clair contract for care: Parents were being required to make additional payments for medical checkups and other care beyond the $18,000 the State of New York was already paying.
  • Failure to have a speech therapist - even though their descriptive materials claimed they did.
One of the two investigators, Ms. Flagg, noted that Mazik gave no indication that the school was operating without a license, only that he had applied for one. And for the second time in as many year, New York would delist Au Clair.

Mazik did not reply to requests from the News Journal for comment.
Category: 0 comments

October's Death Knell

On October 4, 1970, The New Journal ran another Au Clair story:  Au Clair School is Again Denied A State License, by Margaret Kirk.  Kirk had been the first to report on Au Clair in July and had with the beat for months, dogging Mazik for an interview he refused to give.

On October 3rd, the state had rejected Mazik's plan and his lawyer, Rammuno, announced he would appeal the decision. "I think now Mr. Mazik will take off his gloves, and come out fighting," he declared. Mazik still refused, though, to talk to Kirk.

The state had based its decision on finding that Mazik had failed to correct six of the seven deficiencies cited the previous June in the facility's first licensing rejection report. It was found that
  • Mazik made not made a "good faith" effort to hire a program director
  • He had failed to create adequate control procedures
  • He had not developed an outside review committee for the school
  • Little new training had been developed for staff
  • Staffing levels had increased, however, the state questioned the qualifications of several new staff members
  • Minimal changes had been made to the way that aversive - painful punishments - would be deployed with students.
In sum, the state felt that Mazik had not taken its June report very seriously. Mazik had 30 days to file an appeal.
Category: 0 comments

Do Parents Know? Part 2

For months Ken Mazik, along with his attorney Vincent Rammuno, fought for Au Clair's license.  Mazik's parents stood staunchly behind him.  But, some wondered if these parents really knew the whole story - the details that the state's report had omitted.

From the News Journal, November 11, 1979:


On August 7, 1979, The News Journal reported that Massachusetts had made plans to withdraw their two students from Au Clair and move them closer to home, despite the wishes of at least one of two parents..  Au Clair begged that state to not disrupt the students' lives through such a huge transition.  MA responded that if they arrived at Au Clair, they likely would not find a facility that met their standards. They justified their reasoning by explaining that new facilities that could meet these children's needs had been established closer to their families.

From the News Journal, August 16, 1979:
Mazik was feeling the pressure.  Through his attorney Rammuno, the possibility of appealing the original report was frequently mentioned.  Yet, Mazik was unapologetically working to meet the requirements that the state had laid before him if he wanted Au Clair to continue operating.  However, Mazik and the state were struggling with one requirement - the hiring of an autonomous program director to "formulate, direct, maintain, and implement therapy programs. (NJ 8/7/79). Rammuno represented Mazik as afraid he would loose control over his program.

By August he had provided the state with a report that he believed addressed their concerns.  Mazik claimed to have hired additional staff and was in the process of setting up individual therapy plans for each child/resident. He also offered emergency procedures for the "use of strong punishment only under specific circumstances." The state felt that fidelity to the emergency procedures was the lynchpin to Au Clair's license.

The state in turn reached out to the three independent evaluators, who had helped craft the original report that resulted in the license denial, to evaluate Mazik's plans.

The News Journal reported on September 14, 1979, of a most unusual meeting between state education officials and Matthew L. Israel, president of the Behavior Research Institute Inc. in Providence R.I. to discuss, of all things, opening a special program for Delaware's own children with autism.  Israel's schools were based on the same theories implemented at Au Clair including painful aversives. Israel was as controversial as Ken Mazik, but in a turn of events, the public learned that two of Delaware's children were residing in Israel's care in R.I.  The state was paying $44,000/yr in tuition. And just like Au Clair, Israel's R. I. school had been removed from New York's list of approved providers - for questionable practices around the use of painful punishment, although Israel was touting reinstatement. Mazik, it appeared would also earn its status back.

Meanwhile, attorney Rammuno continued to publicly bemoan the state's process and the very long wait for a verdict on the liscening documents. 
Category: 0 comments

Do Parents Know? Part I

Throughout 1979, Au Clair's presence in the New Journal was a phenome, a beacon to reporters who sought headlines and column inches long before the "clicks" of today. One of the headlines that struck me came from the opinion pages, "Do the Parents Know?" It's a piece I intend to reprint. It's author turned out to be a very special person to me - a woman I considered a specialist when my own child began her autism journey. I was deeply stunned when I realized her connection to Au Clair and even more deeply touched to understand how passionately she cared for children with autism. If I had only known the beginning of the story, she and I might have sparred far less often than we did in those early years.
When I was inspired to pivot my blog away from education politics in general, I knew I wanted to delve into the past, into the parts of the story that happened before me and before my generation of writers and bloggers.  It's often said of the bible that it's mostly stories, especially the old testament - written by writers who knew how the story ended, but had only an oral tradition of how the story started. They just weren't there to record the beginning and begats. In college, under Dr. Flynn, I had the privilege of taking the Bible as Literature I and II - where my 12 years of Catholic education finally paid off and where I was finally able to contextualize the stories which had influenced me as a child.
Because of journalism, of the voracity of readers and the proliferation of reporters in the last 50 to 100 years, we have at our finger tips something that the writers of the bible lacked.  We have the beginning. As a result I could drive the date back all the way to 1969 when two newer-ly weds opened a home for children with the kind of autism that no one wanted and power forward 48 years to the day Janaia Barnhart was killed at Au Clair or as its known today, AdvoServ. 
On September 22, 2016, Secretary of Delaware's Department of Education, Steve Godowsky sent the following missive to the districts and charters.  It is the first and only reference of its kind thus far to indicate that there is a Delaware State Police Investigation into Janaia's death.  

While we wait to learn more, I will be plugging away through 1979 and onward to Florida, where Au Clair began its next chapter of abuse as well as digging into how one operation became the unofficial national lobby of for-profit care of those in need of educational and residential placement.

Category: 0 comments

The Final Voices in the News Journal Five Day Expose (1979)

*All Newspaper Clips in this Blog Series are Attributed to the Archives at the News Journal, where you, too, can purchase a one month membership for access to Journal related papers dating back to the 1800s.

There were still voices who owned the right to contribute to the Au Clair saga.  The first, the children, whose the manifestations of their disability left them sadly silent.  The second, their parents, 30 families in sum, clambered for their opportunity to tell their stories and why they stood behind Ken Mazik and Au Clair despite the atrocious state report and license denial. On July 23, 1979, these parents had their very public say when the News Journal ran their interviews.

When Claire and Ken opened Au Clair they chose one particular population with which to work - those diagnosed with Kanner's Syndrome - which the Mazik described as the most severe form of autism, the children no other facility wanted.  These children were his niche. And for his families, he was their savior.

One New York father told of how Mazik had found his son in another facility, "crouching in the corner of a bathroom." He was naked and covered and feces.  In his son's 10 years at Au Clair the father had never found any sign that his child had been beaten or abused. The father was so impressed that he was already taking steps to move from his home state to Middletown, Delaware.
Other stories were more complicated, but gained the same support for Mazik and Au Clair. And each worried about how Delaware's report would affect their own state's view of Au Clair. Would the subsidies stop coming as had happened in New York 1978?

One of the more surprising supporters was autism advocate Sheridan Neimark, former director of the National Society of Autistic Children, whose own son lived at Au Clair.

 One after another, parents shared their experiences with her children and attributed successes to Au Clair:

And another:
Of the 13 families that the News Journal interviewed only one expressed dismay with the content of the State's report, finding the contents of the report "sadistic."  Some felt that many of the children after certain number of years had plateaued at Au Clair. But, none questioned Ken Mazik.  One parent put this way, "I couldn't complain too loudly. There is a supply and demand problem for these schools. In this case [Masik] can throw my child out on a whimsy."

Several parents questioned the report, especially the fact that they were not contacted when investigators substantiated abuse.  Shouldn't the state have notified them that their children were in harms way? Delaware hadn't reach out to them at all, even though these parents believed knew Au Clair much better than the bureaucracy that was attempting to regulate the school. 

Regardless, Au Clair was the end of a long search for many families, despite the aversives and plateaus, because Mazik had offered them something far better than they'd found elsewhere - hope. And hope is almost as good as home.
Category: 0 comments

Poppycock? Part II, The State's Failure to License

*All Newspaper Clips in this Blog Series are Attributed to the Archives at the News Journal, where you, too, can purchase a one month membership for access to Journal related papers dating back to the 1800s.

By most accounts, Mazik attorney, Vincent Rammuno hit a homerun when he called out the state on its failure to perform its duties in the licensing of Au Clair.  It wasn't just a deflection point. 

On November 4, 1978, The News Journal ran a story airing the state's failure to maintain licensing practices from 1975 to 1978. The Division of Social Services clearly owned its fault in falling far short of the law with its inability to provide annual licenses to private residential care facilities for children, placement agencies and group homes. The fall-out of these violations had extended to each of the 28 agencies under the purview of the department, putting each facility in tenuous position of operating outside the law, impeding their ability to acquire malpractice insurance, and for some, hindering the ability to receive national accreditations or outside funding.

One facility operator put it this way, "It was a dangerous period for the state and for the consumer - which in this case, the consumer being the child."

By the time the story made headlines, the Division was taking its own corrective action - after realizing its failure put at risk thousands of dollars in federal funds meant to support 150 children who were then placed in these private facilities.

Was it possible that the State was at fault for the deficiencies at Au Clair? On July 25, 1979, the News Journal delved into the ramifications of the state's lapse in licensing at Au Clair.  It's license had expired September 15, 1976.  During its investigation, the News Journal claimed that at least one report of child abuse in May 1978 had been improperly handled because no licensing staff existed at the time. 

Writers pondered whether more instances of abuse would have been uncovered had the school been monitored in the years it operated without state oversight. It was during these years that former and current staff believed that conditions at Au Clair were most critical.

On July 22, 1979, the News Journal ran another story on Au Clair, highlighting the concerns of current and former staff members who had been at Au Clair during the years it was without a license. Some spoke publicly, other asked to have their identity concealed. 

One such staff member was hired into the school in 1977.  He witnessed children being hit with riding crops and a three-foot-long whiffle ball bat.  Another staff member, hired in August 1976, on his second day, witnessed a teen who was tied with a rope around the waist and then dunked into a pool "that had not been cleaned, and it was filled with algae, dirty water, and dead insects."
In 1976, Mazik did admit to using a riding crop on a student. He described the incident as "a long time coming." He justified whipping the 16 year old b/c he " was feeling his manhood" and had begun obsessing about sex.  Suffice to say, he beat the boy's manhood right out of him.  And then there was "Pete's Room."  The room, used at night, had four beds and frequently housed up to six children.  The window in the room was enclosed in a wire cage and the door could be shut and locked.  Staff members were concerned not by the overcrowding, but by the unventilated room temperature which could rise to 95 degrees in the during the summer.

Questions were also raised about the three states that sent children to Au Clair for private placement. How much or how little oversight had these states provided when choosing to send students to a facility without a license.
  • The State of New York had proactively removed Au Clair from its list of approved facilities in 1978 when the school refused to provide enough financial data for the state to justify the cost of care. Au Clair was charging New York $18,000 year per year per child.  In 1979, the only New York students at Au Clair were those who were privately placed by their own guardians.
  • Officials from Massachusetts admitted its last visit to the school was in 1974.   
  • The State of Maryland had made scheduled visits to Au Clair to check on its 8-9 students in residence, however Mazik would not allow surprise inspections.  Maryland would continue to send students to Au Clair/AdvoServ until 2016 when inspectors found deplorable conditions that caused them to sever the contract with the school.
There was just one question looming.  If Delaware had performed its licensing duties would deficiencies been discovered sooner?  It was a question no one could answer. However, one aspect of the case stood out - If Au Clair had been held to the same staffing requirements as public schools, their staffing ratio would have moved from 1:12 to 1:4.

What Au Clair taught Delaware was that it was time to rewrite the state's licensing regulations. 

Category: 0 comments