Most parents send their children to school to get a good education and gain social skills.  Most of the time, that’s pretty much what happens.  However, there is a whole other system for students who “fall through the cracks.”

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Tough love or torture? Image: Shutterstock

One option for parents at their wits end is boarding school. Many boarding schools have excellent reputations and do, indeed, produce fine upstanding citizens.  However, there is an ugly underbelly of some boarding schools known for “tough love” and worse.

“Many of the hundreds of adolescents in the schools are sent by parents who say they can no longer cope with their problems, including Asperger’s syndrome, depression and drug use. Many have been sexually or physically abused.”

There are many Utah-based schools under the umbrella of the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools which operate almost outside the scope of the law.  There are no federal laws banning physical abuse or withholding of food at such schools.  In fact, when you sign up, parents sign a form releasing the school from legal liability.

While many have closed down, others are still open and operational.  One such school is Horizon Academy, a school which touted therapy as one of its benefits.  That’s what Alexander Chomakhidze’s family was counting on.

After moving to the U.S. from Greece, the teenager found himself unable to transition into American life.  He became depressed and even attempted suicide.  Fearing for his life, Alexander’s parents put him in school at Horizon Academy.

The name sounds cheerful, as if success and happiness are right over the horizon.  Academy sounds preppy, like an Ivy League school.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  According to many students, schools such as this one were nothing more than centers for torture and child abuse.


Girl worries about her future. Image: Shutterstock

Chomakhidze said that he was “roughed up and taunted by staff members” who held him down and cut off his long hair when he arrived.  When he later slit his wrists, he said he was disciplined but received no mental health counseling.

Instead of counseling, students encounter an extremely strict regimen similar to jail.  Students are restricted from talking, using the bathroom at will, walking about freely between rooms, taking showers and talking with family members back home.  The compounds are usually locked and reside in remote areas with no other people or structures for miles around.

Some of what students describe as consequences of bad behavior includes being restrained in painful positions for hours and being forced to wear flip flops (even in the winter because it makes it harder to run away).  Other punishments at World Wide programs have included pepper spraying, handcuffing and being forced into dog cages, according to former students and claims in lawsuits.

It seems like it would be almost impossible to flourish under such harsh conditions.  Many don’t and they end up leaving thus widening the cracks in the educational system even more.