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 Posted February 22, 2002 

Press Release

Obsidian Schools
Bend, OR 97701
Chip Huge, PhD

Controversy abounds at Obsidian Schools.

There has been a lot of misinformation floating in the media the past few weeks regarding Obsidian Schools, its students and families and Services for Child and Family. Here are the simple facts of the matter:

Two girls in the program developed frostbite. In both cases as soon as we discovered the frostbite we took immediate steps to treat the problem. Both girls were promptly brought in for medical treatment as well. After discovering the first frostbite case we increased the number of daily foot checks, and increased the number of times students had to exchange wet socks for dry. After finding the second case we went to three-foot checks and sock exchanges a day.

The other two outdoor schools operating in Oregon also had frostbite cases this winter. Services for Child and Family didnít go after them, however. This is the first winter we have had any frostbite. We were not allowed to address this issue in the hearing at all. Both girls are healing well.

One girl in the program had to have an emergency appendectomy. A few days after entering in the school and going out to the field, she reported symptoms consistent with an STD. Our program director, who was also our in-field health professional (Wilderness First Responder, Wilderness Emergency Medical Tech, Army Medic, and Nurses training) assessed her on his weekly health check and scheduled her for a medical evaluation in town. At the evaluation she reported conflicting and changing symptoms. She was also found to be pregnant. It was initially believed she may have had an ectopic pregnancy and she was sent to the hospital for an evaluation. It took several hours of tests and exploratory surgery to discover that she had an abscessed ruptured appendix. Nothing our school did caused this girl to rupture her appendix, or get pregnant. The symptoms she presented were consistent with an STD, not appendicitis. And, once she was at the hospital, it took the medical staff, using all of their sophisticated equipment and exploratory surgery to discover the actual nature of her ailment.

SCF investigators refused to interview the medical staff at the clinic, where some of the students were treated. They also refused to interview our Program Director/ Health Monitor, or look at his detailed records of the girls in question.

SCF also claimed that the winter conditions in our field made it unsafe to remain in the mountains. We were camped at about 1,000 to 2,000 foot elevation. The SCF attorney said the snow was so deep that SCF investigators had to use snowshoes. I was there the day they came out and the snow was about six to ten inches deep. No one was wearing snowshoes. SCF investigators said in their affidavit that the winter conditions were too severe for the children in the program, but provided no testimony from backpacking experts, outdoors people, or medical personnel to back it up. The high temperature that day was about thirty-five degrees, and the low the previous night was near twenty-five. And while it had snowed and rained the previous day, on the day of the hearing the skies were bright and crystal clear.

The students were currently camped on three sites with wall tents with wood stoves. Each site also had a traditional high-roofed tarp-shelter with a fire pit in the center. Firewood had been trucked to each campsite. The students were equipped for the winter: sleeping bags rated for minus ten-degrees, snow boots, several pairs of wool-blend winter socks, underwear, long underwear, wool pants, undershirts, shirts, over shirts, wool sweaters, gloves, ski caps, winter coats and rain gear. They were camped at levels low enough to safely access at any time, regardless of the weather.

You also need to know that a student died in the Obsidian Trails program, because SCF uses that incident against us every time it gets a chance. About a year and a half ago, a fifteen-year-old student went into a rage and attacked a male and female field instructor, and had to be restrained. In the process, this 180-pound boy stopped breathing. Our staff kept him alive with CPR until the Air life helicopter arrived and took him to the hospital, where he subsequently died. The Medical examiner could not find a firm cause of death. He suspected that a lacerated vertebral artery was involved, but could not find such a laceration. This boy had been run over by his fatherís truck when he was one - and-a-half years old, and had had numerous physical, neurological, and emotional problems ever since. I believe his actual cause of death is related to that tragic event. A grand jury subsequently investigated the boyís death. No indictments or charges were ever filed in this case. And our review of the facts of the case lead us to believe that our staff did everything right. It was an awful event for everyone involved. But, SCF is using this event against us, as though our actions had caused this boyís death.

In a nutshell, we have been given back our permit to be in the forest by the Oregon Department of Forestry, kept the children safe and kept the parents informed. Our parents have been the backbone of our ability to persevere. They have supported us in every way imaginable; so have our new parents. During this whole ordeal, parents have been enrolling their children, confident in our program and outcomes. We continue to meet all requirements for our licensing for March 1. We have a Registered Nurse seeing students in the field twice a week (itís nice that she is the mother of one of our graduates).

This is an overview. I hope it gives you a capsule of insight that is digestible. Letís focus on the facts. Hopefully, what will be resolved will be a greater program for all of our families. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me.

PO Box 1671 | Bonners Ferry, ID 83805 | 208-267-5550
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