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MONTPELIER — The Vermont Senate intends to hold hearings on the state’s response to allegations of abuse at the Kurn Hattin Homes in Westminster, according to an announcement from Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint’s office.

According to the announcement, issued Friday afternoon by Balint, D-Windham, Senate Education Committee chair Brian Campion, D-Bennington, Health and Welfare Committee chair Ginny Lyons, D-Chittenden, and Judiciary Committee chair Dick Sears, D-Bennington, the Senate intends to hold hearings when it returns from its Town Meeting week break.

“We intend to take testimony in the committees of jurisdiction to learn more about the state response to these allegations and make sure that this issue doesn’t fall by the wayside while we are in the midst of the pandemic,” the announcement said.

According to the announcement, senators were informed there are “ongoing concerns” about allegations of abuse at Kurn Hattin, and that several state agencies, including the Department for Children and Families and the Agency of Education, have been investigating.

“We have also heard reports of possible lawsuits from alleged victims,” the announcement said. “We know that cultures of abuse can have devastating impacts for the victims long after the alleged abuse takes place. As Senators we take our responsibility to address these issues seriously.”

Kurn Hattin voluntarily surrendered its residential treatment license in September 2020, after allegations of sexual abuse at the school occurring in 2019. The residential school, which remains open, is also facing potential lawsuits from survivors alleging abuse taking place as far back as the 1940s.

The school said in September that an independent investigator was reviewing those allegations.

Sean Brown, the commissioner of the Department of Children and Families, told the Reformer in September the state had initiated an investigation into the school that included a review of its compliance with its licensing conditions. “We found them to be in violation and also failing to provide adequate supervision to youth in the residential treatment program,” Brown said at the time, adding that DCF would have taken the license had it not been relinquished.

The school’s legal counsel, Gary F. Karnedy, said the school elected to give up the license “because it is a residential educational program and not a residential treatment program.”

Voice and email messages left Friday afternoon for Karnedy and for school Executive Director Stephen Harrison were not returned as of press time.

Greg Sukiennik covers Vermont government and politics for New England Newspapers. Reach him at gsukiennik@reformer.com.

Greg Sukiennik joined New England Newspapers as a reporter at The Berkshire Eagle in 1995. He worked for The AP in Boston, and at ESPN.com, before rejoining NENI in 2016. He was managing editor of all three NENI Vermont newspapers from 2017-19.


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