Hanna Boys Center staff call for board intervention

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Faculty unrest over leadership at Hanna Boys Center and the management of its Archbishop Hanna High School continue to reverberate at the Arnold Drive campus – and this week a member of the board of trustees has submitted his resignation voicing similar concerns over the direction of the of the Catholic home for at-risk youth.

Hanna Boys Center has been embroiled in multiple storms in recent years – including a “whistleblowers” lawsuit and multiple allegations of sexual abuse.

In May, the school announced a complete faculty overhaul, in which the head of school was re-assigned and teachers were asked to re-apply for their jobs. That announcement was a catalyst for a chorus of outcries from the center’s staff, the resignation of longtime trustee Tom Angstadt, and a series of anonymous letters from staff members sent to the board of trustees – and to the Index-Tribune, which also received anonymous emails – describing a bottoming out of morale among teachers that’s led to a loss of confidence in Hanna leadership.

Angstadt, a 10-year member of the board of trustees, resigned on May 29, citing among a list of disappointments, that “all teachers were informed that they needed to reapply for their jobs (they were terminated),” noting that, “May is one of the worst times of the year to force teachers out into the job market.”

“The timing of this notice was a very poor decision by Hanna’s staff and its board,” wrote Angstadt in his resignation letter.

The letters sent to the Hanna trustees and the I-T were unsigned, but outline concerns confirmed in independent conversations between the Index-Tribune and more than a dozen current and former Hanna staff members, who requested their names be withheld out of fear of retaliation. Among the common refrains have been concerns over safety issues and rampant drug use among the residents of Hanna Boys Center. Each letter, and several people who spoke directly with the Index-Tribune, ask for the Board of Trustees to investigate, and some staff members are calling for the removal of Brian Farragher, the executive director of Hanna since 2015.

“The working culture among staff is at an all-time low. Staff are insecure about their positions and don’t feel valued or understood,” one letter said. “We encourage the board to consider the negative directions that Farragher has taken HBC over the past four years and consider checks on his power and/or finding a better executive director.”

Farragher announced earlier this year that all teachers would need to reapply and interview for their jobs, and that there would be three fewer positions to be filled bringing the teaching staff from 19 to 16. A new model for the school is being put in place, Farragher told the Index-Tribune, and new job descriptions reflect the need of faculty to understand and practice the new concepts.

Tullus Miller, chair of Hanna’s board of trustees, said the letters and staff concerns about Farragher, safety and drug use were only brought up after the reorganization was announced.

“(Those concerns) never made its way to the board,” Miller said, “The board has a whistleblower program. None of this has come up until we wanted to make the changes with the program.”

The staff sources who spoke to the Index-Tribune stressed that their requests for anonymity stemmed from the firing of former Hanna employee Tim Norman in 2016. Norman had been clinical director at Hanna, but was fired after raising concerns with the trustees over excessive drug use and unchecked bullying among Hanna’s residents.

One staff member described the firing of Norman as “clearly a warning sign” to anyone who wanted to “bring to light what is going on behind the scenes” at Hanna.

Miller said Norman’s case “was different.” Norman was a candidate for the executive director position at the same time Farragher was being considered, Miller said, but Norman didn’t get the job and animosity between Norman and Farragher developed. The men “clashed in philosophy and science” and Miller said the board agreed with Farragher that “we should let Tim go.”

Norman later was awarded $1.1 million in a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Miller said the board fully supports Farragher and, in spite of staff complaints, stands with him and the new direction of the center. Miller said some of the teachers are part of the “old regime” and in spite of being trained in the school’s new emphasis on trauma informed care (TIC) – a structure and framework for providing care and understanding to those who have experienced trauma in their lives – they are not fully implementing it as they should, Miller said.

Trauma informed care stresses the need for building relationships as part of the care and treatment of the boys, something the staff say they have done all along. Farragher eschews discipline and equates it to being punitive. Those who already have had trauma in their lives need “more relationship,” Farragher told the Index-Tribune earlier this month.

Farragher said that changes such as the faculty shake up are “very challenging in organizations like ours,” and they are being done “to better align our practice with the evolving science on neurodevelopment and toxic stress.”

“I am sad it has become acrimonious,” Farragher said about the faculty. “I think we all want the same things for our young people, but there is a lot of new, emerging practices that are disrupting the old ways of doing things. I wish it were easier.”

But staff said the result of the school’s implementation of trauma informed care has an absence of structure, boundaries and any consequences for misbehavior or drug use by the boys at Hanna.

“Staff discipline of boys are frequently undermined by Farragher’s interpretation of ‘trauma-informed care’, boundaries are unclear and any disciplinary decisions run the risk of being unsupported by the administration,” said a staff member.

Staffers said the defiance among residents has only escalated in the three years since Norman was fired, describing a lack of checks on bullying, fighting, drug use, skipping class, back-talking and other behaviors.

There is “widespread student drug abuse involving marijuana and methamphetamines with little or no intervention” and “a student climate that encourages bullying and verbal confrontation,” said one letter writer.

“Physical confrontations are common among residents and students have few consequences from making poor decisions,” it continued.

The lack of consequences gives no boundaries or structure to the center and school, said staffers and others associated with the center, and it puts both students and staff in danger.

“With the lack of consequences, the bullying will never stop,” said a staff member, adding some of the boys at the center “live there in fear.”

In one instance, described to the I-T by multiple staff members and confirmed by Miller, Farragher overstepped a physical boundary.

A confrontation with a boy and Farragher at Hanna’s chapel escalated with raised voices – and when the boy walked away abruptly, Farragher grabbed the boy from behind by the backpack and yanked him back. Miller said Farragher told him about the incident and Hanna officials reported it to Community Care Licensing (CCL), a division of the state Department of Social Services, as is required. But the CCL report says that “failure to report the unusual incident” was part of the reason for an investigation.

Miller said it is unfair to characterize Farragher for having “one bad day.”

Despite the concerns of faculty, Miller said Farragher has the board’s support.

In March of 2018, Community Care Licensing placed Hanna Boys Center on a three-year probation following multiple violations, mostly related to charges of sexual abuse and safety concerns.

Among them have been abuse claims against former director Rev. John Crews, who resigned in 2013 following one claim; former clinical director Kevin Thorpe, who was sentenced last year to 21 years in prison for sex offenses against four boys; and former counselor Angelica Malinski who was charged with engaging in an unlawful sex act with a boy in 2017.

In his letter of resignation from the board of trustees, Angstadt emphasized his “deep desire to help and educate at-risk young students.”

“I am not comfortable with Hanna’s current direction,” said Angstadt, “and, thus, will spend my available nonprofit time with organizations with which I share the same values.”

In a statement on Angstadt’s resignation, Miller expressed his regret that the longtime trustee “has decided to step away at this pivotal time.”

“We are most grateful for his Board service and we will always consider him a friend of Hanna’s,” said Miller, who added that Hanna officials were in the process of completing a strategic review of all Hanna operations and adopting a new five-year strategic plan for the center.

Concluded Miller: “We look forward to building a new future for Hanna together under this shared vision.”

Contact Anne at anne.ernst@sonomanews.com.

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