Updated: Privatizing Alleged Child Abuse At The Pinnacle Schools


Update: If you want to read much, much more about Pinnacle and Planking as a form of restraint (many states have outlawed its use), go read the Merts Center Monitor’s “The Pinnacle Schools: What Are We Waiting For?” Redeye has also written about the use of this school on several occasions.

When a school system closes public schools and replaces them by funding private organizations like The Pinnacle Schools, the people, the community, and especially the students, lose. The district, the people, lose their ability to oversee and question even extreme examples of child abuse as seen in these pictures.

Last night, WAFF reported that a 13 year old student at The Pinnacle Schools has been abused by security personnel of the “school.”

On January 19th, upon the recommendation of the Superintendent, the Huntsville Board of Education voted to approve a $1,596,000, 19 month contract with The Pinnacle Schools to replace the much maligned Seldon Center to provide alternative school services to students who commit an expulsion worthy offense in Huntsville City Schools.

This contract has an auto-renewal clause that will kick into effect unless the superintendent provides The Pinnacle Schools written notification at least 60 days prior to the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year. They accept students from Huntsville City as young as 12 years old.

Child Abuse

On Wednesday, October 10, 2012, while attending The Pinnacle Schools, a 13-year-old boy was ordered by a security officer at the school to leave class for talking. This child was then taken into a separate room and ordered to lie down on the floor, face down in a “planking” position.

Take a moment right now, and go lie face down on the floor with your nose pressed into the floor. I suspect that you will find that position is a difficult one to maintain for an extended period. If for no other reason, breathing becomes difficult without turning your head.

Now, imagine that every time you do turn your head, an adult security guard strikes you on your sides with enough force to cause the marks, broken skin and bruising that you see evidenced in the photographs seen above.

All this for talking in class.

Now, instead of imagining this is being done to you, imagine instead that it is happening to your 13 year old grandson. This is the hell that Harold Wesley has been living through for the past week as he attempts to get answers from The Pinnacle Schools and the district about this incident.

This is child abuse. Thankfully, the Huntsville Police Department is investigating this as such.

HCS: No Corporal Punishment

One of the first things that Dr. Wardynski did upon arriving, well, after hiring his friends Frank Spinelli, Aaron King, and several other aides for himself, was to eliminate the use of corporal punishment in Huntsville City Schools. This was one of the few things that Dr. Wardynski has done since arriving at Huntsville City Schools that I completely support.

Teachers and administrators should not be placed in a position of meting out physical punishment to students. There are too many risks involved for both the student and the teacher. It’s not effective and the risks are not worth the potential benefits.

But when a district gives over control of its schools and student population to a private company, the rules that are established for public schools may or may not apply for the private organization.

The contract alone determines what policies that the private contractor will follow.

Pinnacle Schools Makes No Promise Concerning Corporal Punishment

In this instance, the Pinnacle Schools contract is far less than clear. At no point does the contract ensure that The Pinnacle Schools will follow Huntsville City School policies such as the elimination of corporal punishment.

It does say, under a section entitled, “Staff and Security”:

TPS RAISE Program will provide security personnel who are trained in SAMA (Satori Alternatives to Manage Aggression) techniques which include the assisting process for de-escalating possible aggression. Additional security measures which include a closed circuit video monitoring system and identification system for student and visitor check ins and outs.

I find it difficult to believe that anyone would consider the above abuse a de-escalation from the simple mistake of talking in class.

Huntsville City Schools Promotes The Pinnacle Schools’ Child Abuse Therapy Programs

On May 17th, Mr. Aaron King offered a report concerning the number and amount of private contractors the district has hired. In this report he claimed that The Pinnacle Schools will provide a “70% Return on Investment in FY 2013.” I’d imagine with the legal issues that TPS is causing the district that Mr. King would need to reduce that estimate downwards these days.

But most interesting, Mr. King claimed that TPS offered both drug and “abused child therapy programs.”

Pinnacle Report

Like much of the rest of that report that night (which substantially underestimated the number of contractors and their costs), this “benefit” has simply not panned out.

After the increased costs of this contract, the shameless hypocrisy surrounding this contract, and now the actual abuse of children, there is simply no justification for keeping this contract active.

But here’s the two-fold problem: since closing the Seldon Center, the district no longer has an alternative, and this contract has a one-sided breach of contract clause that allows them to defer any resolution for nearly an indefinite period.

The clause reads:

In the event of a serious breach of an obligation or covenant under this Agreement, the non-breaching party may give the breaching party written notice of the specifics of the breach, and the breaching party shall have 60 days in which to cure the breach. Only if the breach is not cured within such period shall the non-breaching party be entitled to pursue any remedies it may have by reason of the breach, including termination of this Agreement. In the event any provision contained in this Agreement shall be breached by either party and thereafter waived by either party, such waiver shall be limited to the particular breach so waived and shall not be deemed to waive any other breach.

This allows TPS to delay the cancellation of the contract, for all practical purposes, until the end of the contract on July 31, 2013.

In other words, our children are going to likely be at risk for an additional nine months.

This is a travesty. Perhaps our newest, but as yet unseated, board member Mr. Culbreath would like to take this issue on next now that’s he has finished dealing with the Spinelli contract. Our children can’t wait until next year.


Tomorrow night will be yet another board meeting. They will be discussing several programs on bullying that they have “borrowed” from my good friend Mr. James Robinson of the GLBT Advocacy and Youth Services. I suspect that there will be a significant number of parents and other concerned citizens present to make their concerns known to the board.

If you care about making sure that things like this abuse of a child are brought to an end, please come out to the board meeting at the Merts Center, 200 White Street, N. at 5:30pm tonight.

If you can’t make the meeting, at least log onto Facebook and “like” S.O.S – SupportOurStudents. All the latest news and information on safety issues in our schools can be found there.

Finally, if you can’t make it, please follow me on twitter @russwinn or on the GeekPalaver Facebook Page. You can also watch the meeting live on channels 17 (Comcast) or 99 (Knology) beginning at 5:30pm. The district also streams the meeting on the web on the district web site.

Our students need your help and protection. It’s time to stop the violence and end the silence.

Come speak.

"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.


  1. Why would the system have a contract like this? I hope the BOE did not approve the contract with this language. I wonder what JR is telling the BOE. This is a situation that may need some serious mediation to terminate and I hope it is terminated immediately.

  2. Of course the BoE approved the contract with language like that. They approved it knowing that the CEO of Pinnacle Schools, Karen Lee’s two sons are facing drug trafficking and small weapons charges involving 25 pounds of pot, and possibly knew one of these boys was employed as a counselor at the Elk River Treatment facility. And what’s that, you ask? A level of abuse more extreme than Pinnacle Schools. Its a wilderness camp without an address to which Wardynski can send kids for an indefinite stay — as long as it suits him — where they are held incommunicado [one censored letter home a week. No calls. No visits. No legal representation.] If what we see above is what is being done to kids who go home at night, just imagine what is going on at W’s private prison.

    Have a look at the HCS Policy Manual, Student Parent Handbook, and website. Try, just try, to find anything about Pinnacle.

    I have tried and I have tried and I have tried to warn people about this. Visit http://abouthcs.wordpress.com/. I just checked — over on the right there’s a list of top posts. Apparently people are finally interested.

    One man had the nerve to come forward for his grandchild. You think this boy is the only one who has been hurt?

  3. I posted something few months ago about this program and everyone ignored my post on (Concerned Citzens for Huntsville City Schools)…. I told not one but over 600 members that this program is a FAKE but no one would listen now look what happen; I know they wish they had the old Seldon Center back now. This is the kind of mess happen when the parents let BOE & Dr. Casey take over and changing policies without involving the community or getting their input. This is what happen when (you let your kids get in a car with known a child abuser, rapist, etc.). I will say this one more time; the whole BOE should be held accountable for what happen to this kid and any other kid that has been abuse in the system within the past 17 months under Dr. Casey. Now people remember he has not passed the certification test here in the state of Alabama nor do he know the Education Laws of Alabama. Well if y’all like eating ~liver every morning for breakfast~ then that’s what he (Casey) will push down your throat.

  4. Hate to say it, but I knew it was just a matter of time before something like this happened to “some body’s child”, not to be confused with “no body’s child”. Like havealittletalk I’ve tried and tried to warn people and the school board about risk of privatizing/out sourcing the alternative school. Of course I was ignored, not because I was wrong, but because I was the messenger.





  5. As a former employee of the Seldon Center (as we were all removed and “placed” somewhere else), I am APPALLED at the abuse of this child. It grieves me that these children who come to us already “broken” was treated this way. Mr. Wardynski came to our facility for 15 minutes one day last year, and that is the only time he came into the Seldon Center. Without getting our opinions on how we should change our program, he closed us. None of us knew it until it was approved at the board meeting! We did need help, but no one would give us any. If we had received the $700,000 that Pinnacle received, we could have worked near miracles with those children. However, I can say that NOT one child was abused while he or she was there! This is just one more reason why Mr. W needs to leave our school system. I’m sure the system will go broke again because of all the law suits that will be piled on him and HCS.

    1. This is also one more reason the board who hired and enabled Wardynski should go and be replaced by people who care about children and not profits.

  6. I wonder who Wardynski will place the blame on for this….. “if the kid wasn’t talking….”

  7. Most of us knew the expected out come with subcontracting this type of service. For those who knows at least the other FOUR cases please encourage them to go to the police and file a report, go to the DA and file a warrant and lastly, go to the media for the public to see there is a serious problem. This is the way were are going to have to work the BOE and W. Although W thrives on media attention the BOE does not. The parents also need to come to the board meeting to tell them their story. They all need to hear it.

  8. Just think about it…..we have the National Children’s Advocacy Center at our own front door.

  9. Former Seldon Employee said: If we had received the $700,000 that Pinnacle received, we could have worked near miracles with those children.

    Herein lies the problem, it’s not about working miracles with those children, it’s about privatizing education so private entities can get their fingers on tax dollars. They don’t care about “those children”. They care about the money. Those children are part of the school to prison (slave labor) pipeline.


  10. Privatized or public does not guarantee that that anyone cares about the students. That is a bad argument to have. We have public school employees that don’t care about kids. So to me not much difference. If the Seldon center was doing such a great job they would still be in operation. My thoughts are dont wait to you are about to close up shop to start wanting to do better. Yes I do know many of the ideas that that have had under Dr W. where ignored.

    Military style discipline or hard labor at an alternative school yep I am all for it. Some kids need that to get there life together. What I am not for is the beating of any child. If those marks on that kid are from someone putting there hands on him then they should be fired and charged with assault.

    1. Redline:

      You’re right that being public doesn’t guarantee that someone cares.

      What it does guarantee is that there is at least the possibility of oversight and accountability.

      If a public school teacher were accused of beating a child, or selling weapons and drugs, that teacher would not be in the classroom while the case was being heard.

      Since Pinnacle isn’t a public school, even though it receives public funds, it is more free to do what it wants.

      Parents have far fewer rights with Pinnacle than they did with Seldon.

      Since you bring up Seldon’s performance, where is the evidence that Pinnacle is doing better? Are their students being evaluated in the same manner as Seldon’s were?

      (Uh, no.)

      1. I didn’t think that performance ever was the issue with closing Seldon. I thought it was always about finances. The Pinnacle contract reduced the need for staff at the 2 Seldon campuses as well as the other operational costs. I remember Dr. W saying that alternative school was not something that HCS was required to provide, but something an option that HCS chooses to offer. I also understood that children who are referred to Pinnacle (or previously to Seldon) instead of expulsion from HCS are not legally required to go there. It is just an option offered at no cost to parents and parents can choose something else at their own expense. Is any of this true?

        1. Ms. B: This raises a number of interesting questions.
          1. If a kid under 17 [the current school-leaving age, although 16 is still possible in some cases] is expelled, what happens regarding the law that parents must send kid to school?

          Private schools don’t have to take expelled kids, nor do they have to take kids who can’t pay.

          2. I would think then that a 13-14-15 year old would then be legally required to go to Pinnacle/Seldon???

          3. Thus, I would think that an alternative school may well be required.

          All speculation, mind you.

          1. Thanks for responding. Parents are presumably still responsible for their children’s school attendance and I do not know the answer to how that happens after expulsion for children who do not enroll in a private program. Since enrolling in a private program is permissible, it is reasonable to assume that parents have options for placement. I know of several cases where a student enrolled in a public school in another district (think Huntsville City expulsion, Madison County enrollment for example purposes). I’m sure you’re right that the child must attend somewhere and I would even surmise that it must be in the county where the child resides, if a public school. Now you have me curious.

            My question was about whether HCS is specifically required to provide a designated “alternative school.” I was under the impression that HCS does not have the legal or financial requirement to provide it, but has chosen to do so – for whatever reasons. Is it possible that public school funds may have to follow the child? This is worth looking into more closely, in my opinion.

              1. Pure speculation, but. While W may be technically correct that HCS doesn’t have to offer an alternative school, it may be the case that all kinds of Federal monies come along with the provision that it must. Sort of like SPED, perhaps. If you take the money, you follow the rules. W might not be lying, — just not telling the whole truth. How surprising would that be?

    1. I can confirm that you are correct. Via a reliable source – this is NOT the first time that this has happened at Pinnacle. In fact, there was at least another incident with another student in the same week. Two incidents in the same day/week? I don’t think this is a coincidence.

  11. Thank you Russell for your great comments at the board last night and for defending Seldon. Yes, Seldon had a lot to be desired, but we GENUINELY cared about our students. Our hands were tied on so many ends. The students were housed in a very small facility (the only one on Holmes). There were approximately 120 class 3 students by the end of each semester with only 4 core teachers, 1 part time PE teacher,1 counselor, and 1 principal.

    If we had the resources that Pinnacle has, more could have been done to help these students. Go to their website and see how many people are on their staff. These students were “chattled” into Seldon because HCS just viewed us as their “time-out” program.

    Now, I understand that students who commit Class 3 infractions have multiple times at their home schools to correct the problem. If this is true, then W trying to keep them from overcrowding his beloved Pinnacle…but viewing the picture of this young man’s bruised body, it is not in the best interest of the child to attend Pinnacle. By the way, the article said he was moved to another school. Do you know if he was moved to the TeePee program?

    1. Former Seldon employee, thank you for your dedication to our most troubled students. Sadly our school system is being managed by those who believe in military style disciple and hard labor for these students.

    2. Former Seldon: my god I hope not. The beatings at Pinnacle are done to kids who go home at night. Who knows what those held incommunicado in an undisclosed location are suffering? Not the Board, that’s for sure. Not the taxpayers, who are footing the bill, and I resent like hell one cent of mine going to people who systematically abuse children.

      At Seldon, even the homebound kids were up against it. There was a 2-week stretch in April when they were simply told to stay home, or if they showed up, to go home (but they would be counted as present) because their teachers had been reassigned. No better explanation. These kids simply don’t matter. Not the Seldon teachers’ fault, mind you, but the indifference and professional negligence of someone at Merts.

      Btw, who is going into Neaves these days?

    3. The first child reported by WAFF has been returned to his home school. I don’t know about the others.

  12. Fiddling while Romes Burns..

    I see on WAFF that the School District is warning parents not to answer questions if someone comes to your door, claiming to be collecting data for the school district about special needs kids.

    Meanwhile, it’s beeen 10 days since a HCS student filed a police report, alleging that he was assaulted by a Pinnacle security oficer. The HPD has stated that the charges are credible and being investigated.

    WAFF and The Huntsville Times are reporting that more students have come forward, claiming assault by this same Pinnacle security officer.

    But despite this threat to our students, the HCS still has students at The Pinnacle Schools. Why?

  13. Sorry to hi-jack this, I am trying to stay anonymous. On your Facebook page you were asked about the TFAs and their teaching certificates. There are 5 at my Title 1 school. The ones who are not certified teachers have a ” First Special Alternative” certificate. Those are your key words. There are at least two that do have a teaching degree.

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