July 16, 2018

Director Defends Mount St.John’s School at Deep River Meeting

DEEP RIVER— The executive director of Mount. St. John’s School Tuesday defended policies and procedures at the facility before a small group of concerned neighbors at a meeting of the board of selectmen.

Douglas DeCerbo answered questions from residents about the private, non-profit facility that serves troubled boys between the ages of 13 and 18 under contracts with the state Department of Children and Families. The century-old facility overlooking the Connecticut River off Kirtland Street has been affiliated with the Norwich Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church.

Recent police calls to the facility, particularly the Aug. 4 arrest of 15-year-old male juvenile for an alleged second degree assault that injured another student, had led to a new round of questions and concerns from homeowners in the surrounding neighborhood. The questions led First Selectman Richard Smith to ask DeCerbo, who has meet with the board and residents previously, to attend Tuesday’s meeting.

DeCerbo maintained the number of police calls for incidents arising at or from the facility have actually decreased in recent months. He said a total of 14 incidents led to police calls or arrests over the past year, though nine of the 14 occurred outside of Deep River while students were on leave to their hometowns and families. If a student does not return to the facility after a home visit, the incident is reported as a runaway out of Deep River.

DeCerbo said the facility, which operates an accredited school and vocational training programs, has actually been accepting students with less extensive criminal records, and better chances for success in behavior and academics. “The youth we are getting now have a higher level of skills and motivation,” DeCerbo said, adding “we’ve been having a lot of success with these kids over the past year and things have gone better.”

DeCerbo said the facility had 23 students as of Tuesday, though it allowed accepting up to 32 boys under provisions of the DCF contracts. He said the population has not exceeded 30 in recent months.

Under questioning from neighbor Jack White, DeCerbo said he has the authority to veto acceptance of a potential client if he believes the youth’s background and record is not appropriate for the Mount St. John program. He said the facility does not accept students with records of assault or “sexual acting out”, and does not accept clients who are suicidal. The youth arrested on Aug. 4 is no longer at Mount St. John.

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