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Special Needs Care Ends, Government Isn't Paying

Feb. 28, 2005 – A 17-year-old special needs student at the Anne Carlsen Center for Children in North Dakota was returned to the territory Friday due to the government's failure to pay its obligation to the center.
Dan Howell, chief executive officer of the North Dakota-based center, said Monday two employees of the center escorted the male student on his trip home to St. Thomas where he was handed over to his mother. Howell would not give the name of the student or the mother because that was against the center's policy.
"It's unfortunate," Howell said of the situation. "But we had no other choice because of the disregard of the territory to fulfilling its obligation."
In July of 2002, the V.I. Education Department contracted the Carlsen Center – an institution providing special education and healthcare to children with physical, mental and health impairments – to provide care for three special needs children from the territory at $450 a day for each child.
However, the territory began to lag on its payments to the center and eventually stopped paying them, Howell said. After several attempts to resolve the matter failed, Carlsen Center officials filed suit against the V.I. government in District Court in North Dakota August of last year.
Since the filing of the lawsuit, the three students from the territory who were under the center's care have been displaced.
Howell said one student was sent home last year because he turned 21, and the center only provides care until that age. Another student was transferred to an institution in Florida, and the last student was returned to his mother Friday.
"The outstanding balance is still well over $500,000," Howell said of the government's debt, adding that the center has only received two payments since the filing of the lawsuit.
The government made a payment of $350,000 in December to the center. At that time, it had an outstanding balance of $870,000 owed to the center. Carlsen officials set a deadline of Jan. 10 to pay the remainder of the debt.
Howell said a subsequent payment was received but after the Jan. 10 deadline.
"We have not received any payments for February," Howell said, adding that was the deciding factor in returning the last student to the territory.
Carlsen said a settlement agreement had not been worked out with the V.I. government and the matter is still pending in the North Dakota District Court.
James O'Bryan, St. Thomas-St. John administrator and spokesman for the governor, said he had no idea of the situation, and Gov. Charles W. Turnbull was out of the territory. He added he would have to speak to the Education Commissioner Noreen Michael about the matter.
Michael did not return calls from the Source Monday. Assistant Attorney General Gina Harrison, who is handling the case for the Justice Department, did not return calls Monday either.
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