By Tim Rogers
Tico Times Staff
to get things right the second time around, Utah native
Narvin Lichfield told The Tico Times this week that he
is changing the operational model of his embattled behavior
modification facility Dundee Ranch Academy and hopes
to have it up and running again by the end of August.
controversial "tough-love" program for wayward
U.S. teens was closed May 24, following a week of rioting,
students running away and violent upheaval sparked by two
government interventions to investigate allegations of
abuse. Lichfield was jailed for 24 hours on allegations
of detaining minors against their will, coercion and international
200 students were returned to their homes in the U.S. or
relocated to other sister-affiliated WorldWide Association
of Specialty Programs (WWASP) in the U.S. and Jamaica (TT
May 23, 30).
and his Tica wife Flory are under court order to remain
in the country while allegations of abuse are investigated.
a result of his legal problems in Costa Rica, the Department
of Social Services (DSS) in South Carolina last month slapped
Lichfield with a restraining order prohibiting him from
returning to his other teen facility, known as Carolina
Springs. The U.S. child welfare authorities notified Carolina
Springs that it has to make nine changes if it hopes to
renew its license to operate a residential group home.
Narvin Lichfield shall not be allowed on the premises of
Carolina Springs, nor shall he be involved in the day to
day operations of the facility at this time due to the
criminal and child welfare allegations surrounding his
involvement in the Costa Rican facility," reads a
letter sent June 19 to Carolina Springs director Elaine
Davis from the Department of Social Services. "Once
the allegations/charges are resolved, the Board of Directors
can submit the supporting documentation to DSS for consideration
to determine if Mr. Lichfield can resume his involvement
with children and the managerial decision making at Carolina
list of complaints filed by the South Carolina DSS closely
mirrors the list complied by the Child Welfare Agency (PANI)
here: overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, untrained staff,
restricted contact with parents and the outside world,
and "upper-level" students involved in the disciplining
of "lower-level" students (TT, May 23).
DSS offered Carolina Springs a standard operating license
with a waiver through Oct. 30, 2003. The agreement allows
the Stateside academy to continue operating until October,
on condition that the board of directors agrees to make
the necessary changes to comply with the law.
Carolina Springs' lawyers reportedly have said that they
do not agree to all the terms set by welfare authorities,
which could result in the facility being closed by the
state before Oct. 30, according to Virginia Williamson
of the Carolina DSS office.
facing similar problems in two countries and criminal allegations
here, Lichfield this week said he remains hopeful that
he can ride out the storm and get his Costa Rican facility
Child Welfare Agency (PANI) originally notified Lichfield
May 21 that he had 30 days to make 15 critical changes
if he hoped to get legal and remain open. However, following
the ensuing chaos, Lichfield decided to close the school
three days later.
told The Tico Times this week that he is in the process
of repairing an estimated $2 million in vandalism-caused
damages at his remote Costa Rican facility - formerly an
eco-tourism hotel in the Pacific slope town of Orotina
- and hopes to get licensed by Ministry of Health.
spokeswoman Fanny Cordero this week said that Lichfield
would have to comply with all the requirements of the Technical
Secretariat of Protection in order to apply for a license
to reopen. To date, neither Lichfield nor his lawyers have
been in contact with the PANI office, she said.
new and improved Dundee Ranch, according to Lichfield,
will not employ the controversial disciplinary practices
of physical restraints or solitary confinement; will be
based on a therapeutic model of treatment; and will provide
each student with a laptop computer with Internet access
to facilitate open communication with parents. "Like
Coronado," Lichfield said, referring to the model
used by the U.S.-run boarding school Coronado Academy,
on the central Pacific coast north of Quepos (TT, June
42, said tuition will most likely increase to $2,300 a
month to cover therapy costs, and admitted he is not sure
Dundee will continue its affiliation with WWASP.
he is not concerned that the negative media attention he
and Dundee have received in recent months will hurt his
operation, claiming he will be able to start again with
a fresh slate because there is no such thing as bad press.
understand people's concerns," he said. "If I
were not involved with Dundee and were on the outside looking
in, I would have been concerned too."
he added, "Talking about abuse is like yelling 'fire'
in a crowded building; it doesn't matter if there is a
fire, people react as if there was."
insists that a reopened Dundee would be good for the local
economy, employing area residents and pumping $2 million
a year into the "tourism" economy.
we get this thing taken care of, 90 people will return
to their jobs," he said.
Dundee owner admits that his ability to reopen depends
on the outcome of the legal proceedings against him, but
said he is "thankful for the legal process" because
his critics will now be required to present evidence of
abuse, not just e-mail allegations.
that he has never abused any child entrusted to his care,
and thinks the case mounting against him will fall flat.
prosecutor's case against Lichfield is based on abuse charges
filed by former Dundee mother Robin Crawford and her son
Cody, but other witnesses have yet to come forward (TT,
the long-threatened class-action lawsuit against WWASP
in the U.S. has not been filed yet, despite lawyer Ed Masry's
claim last month that his California-based firm Masry & Vititoe
and the Huron Law Group were planning to file on June 20.
The firms are reportedly still trying to unravel the spiderweb
of WWASP corporate entities in the U.S. (TT, June 20).
said he is offended that his character has been tarnished
internationally, and eventually plans to pursue legal action
against the Costa Rican daily Al Día, The New York
Times and everyone else who dragged his name through the
the final straw was when a classmate of his daughter's
in Utah presented a news article for current events on "Narvin
Lichfield abusing kids in Costa Rica."
want my name restored after being slandered all over the
world. I have been vilified and made out to be something
I'm not," Lichfield stressed.
he added: "In the end it doesn't matter what is said
in the papers, because it is an illusion, it is not real,
and it disappears after two weeks.
was reprinted with permission from
The Tico Times; www.ticotimes.net