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August 15, 2013

Youth center staffing decision bad for both staff and youths

Please let me add another word about the recent termination of the principal and nine faculty members of the youth centers.

I am more than grateful to Delegates Kevin Kelly, Wendell Beitzel and LeRoy Myers, and Senator George Edwards for their support of those terminated.

Michael Lewis, the principal, is my nephew. I know that fact has some influence on what I have to say, but I hope I can be mostly objective in criticizing the decision of the state secretary of education to dismiss him and nine of his faculty. He has done them a great injustice.

I first went into the “forestry camps” in 1963. I have visited young men there often and at length in the fifty years since then. In the several years before Secretary Abed’s “leadership” the camps had been in better shape than I had ever seen them.

I have gotten to know the faculty of the school that exists in the four camps and I am impressed with their competence and their concern for the young men in their classes.

The school program was aimed at rehabilitation rather than punishment. It caught the attention of many around the country interested in juvenile justice. I met such a group who had come here all the way from Oregon to talk with Michael Lewis and observe the school program.

With no concern, and perhaps no knowledge of the effectiveness of the school, Secretary Abed has made this unfortunate decision to change the program.

I am certainly not opposed to innovation, but when something is working as well as the youth centers’ school, I would think any leader would want to continue to move in the same direction rather than begin a whole new way of treating the students.

That brings me to my final concern, the young men in the centers. In all my years of working with them and ministering to them I have never been treated harshly.

I am willing to believe that there are some who may be beyond help; they probably never came around when I was there. Those I did meet were eager for some sign of care. The school program made the most of that eagerness.

I am sorry that what’s best for the students doesn’t seem to have entered into, this bureaucratic and unjust decision.

Monsignor Paul A. Byrnes

Swanton

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