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February 25, 2003

Baxter students finally to get abuse settlement

From: Central Maine Daily Sentinel, ME - 25 Feb 2003

by The Associated Press,
PORTLAND ? More than 20 years after their sex abuse allegations were substantiated, former students at the Gov. Baxter School for the Deaf ? including one now living in South China ?are about to receive financial settlements.

The Baxter Compensation Authority is administering a $6 million victim's fund established by the Legislature and is beginning to review individual claims. The three-member panel will hear from victims and then award $25,000, $60,000 or $100,000, depending on the severity, duration and impact of the abuse.

"There's nothing about this process that doesn't make me uncomfortable," said John Shattuck, director of the Baxter Compensation Authority. "But somebody's got to do this work. ... It is the most important job I'll ever have."

Advocates for the deaf say they are pleased that lawmakers have taken at least some responsibility for what happened at the state-run school in Falmouth between the 1950s and the 1970s, but that no amount of money can undo the terrible damage done to them.

"For people who have very little, sure, this might allow them to buy a car or maybe a house," said Sara Treat, a therapist who works with deaf survivors of abuse. "But nobody thinks it's enough, given what happened."

Glenn Pelletier, who attended Baxter between 1957 and 1972 and was sexually and physically abused during much of that time, calls the sums "insulting."

"There are a lot of people who have had terrible, terrible troubles, who've suffered for a lifetime because of what happened," Pelletier, who lives in South China, said through an interpreter. "I am a very angry man today."

The state has known about the abuse at Baxter for more than 20 years. A report by the state Attorney General's Office in 1982 concluded that despite complaints of physical and sexual abuse from both staff and students, no one bothered to investigate.

The report identified two officials at the school ? Robert E. Kelly, Baxter's principal, and Joseph P. Youngs, the superintendent ? as the primary abusers. The report detailed numerous sexual encounters Kelly had with at least three male students that included bondage, strip poker and nude photography.

In the case of Youngs, the report found the superintendent had punched students in the face, slammed a boy's head against a wall and stabbed at least one student with a pen hard enough to draw blood.

Both men resigned before the report was released. Youngs died in 1990. Kelly, now in his 70s, lives in Port St. Lucie, Fla., and still receives a monthly check of $940 from the Maine State Retirement System.

The Baxter Compensation Authority is without precedent in the United States. Indeed, it was little more than a well-intentioned idea just a year ago ? the authority had $6 million, but no staff, office, telephones, computers or policies.

What's been devised is loosely based on a Canadian program created in 1993 to investigate abuse complaints at Jericho Hill School, a state-operated residential school for deaf children in Vancouver, British Columbia.

"If we didn't have that, there's no doubt it would have taken us a lot longer to get up and running here," said Shattuck, who formerly was director of the state Bureau of Rehabilitation. "There was a desire to get things going as soon as possible."

The $6 million set aside by lawmakers two years ago may not be enough. In just five months, the authority has received 100 claims ? from men and women ? and since an estimated 400 students passed through Baxter while Youngs and Kelly were there, there could be hundreds more. Claims can be submitted until March 31, 2006.

"We've already made the Legislature aware of the fact that there's not enough money," said John Paterson, a Portland lawyer who's chairman of the authority's board. "But we ought to exhaust what we have first."

Copyright © 2003 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.