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Student's Return Sparks Talk of Change

March 3, 2005 – A decision by officials of the North Dakota-based Anne Carlsen Center to return to the territory a 17-year-old student has spurred the government to change its system for providing care to students with special needs.
Last Friday, center officials escorted the male student on his trip home to St. Thomas where he was handed over to his mother. (See "Special Needs Care Ends, Government Isn't Paying").
In a release issued Thursday, Education Commissioner Noreen Michael said a Tri-Agency Agreement was founded between the Education, Health and Human Services Departments to provide for students with special needs who require care that is unavailable in the territory.
By law, the V.I. government has the responsibility for providing off-island healthcare and educational needs for such children if the service is not available in the territory as in the case of the student who was returned – Terrance Leonard, as identified in other published reports.
"In the future, individuals requiring similar, off-island residential services, regardless of which agency originates the referral, will now be handled by the Tri-Agency Agreement," Michael wrote. "Additionally, all monies for residential services will be paid by the Department of Human Services. This will permit one agency to oversee fiscal affairs for all V.I. referrals and will ensure timely payments."
Previously, the matter was handled by the Education Department.
Michael said she completed an investigation of the matter surrounding Leonard's return Wednesday. She said plans were already being made to transfer Leonard to another facility when the incident occurred. However, various factors delayed the completion of that process prior to the Carlsen Center’s decision to return the student to the territory, Michael stated.
"Additionally, although the Department has an outstanding balance owed to the Carlsen Center, relative to this student – $15,388.75 – this debt was not the sole reason for the student’s return," Michael stated. "Nonetheless, the department is in the process of submitting payment for this outstanding balance."
Carlsen Chief Executive Officer Dan Howell said Monday the government owed the center more than $500,000 in outstanding payments for services rendered to three V.I. youth from 2002 to 2005.
The three students have all been displaced, one reached the facility's maximum age, one was transferred to a facility in Florida, and Leonard because of the government failed to pay its obligation to the center, Howell said.
Michael said her department is currently working with Human Services to finalize alternate placement for Leonard.

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