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October 27, 2016

City Council to hold public hearing on teen's death at Wordsworth Academy

Investigation City Council
Wordsworth Academy Google Maps/Street View

Wordsworth Academy in Wynnefield Heights.

Members of Philadelphia City Council announced Thursday that a public meeting will be held to address the death of a 17-year-old male with special needs who allegedly struck his head during a scuffle with staff at Wordsworth Academy earlier this month.

During the Oct. 13 incident at the school in Wynnefield Heights, the unidentified teenager got involved in a dispute with three staff members over his alleged theft of another student's iPod, according to documents from the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services that were obtained by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Other students reported hearing the teen provoke the staff members as they attempted to restrain him. Eventually, the teen was allegedly heard telling staff to get off him because he "couldn't breathe," after which the students said there was complete silence.

Police who responded to the scene said the teen, whose mental health condition was not revealed, attempted to barricade himself inside a room during the course of the altercation. The boy was allegedly placed in a headlock before he hit his head and later died of his injuries.

Authorities said they believe the incident was an accident but an investigation remains ongoing.

On Monday, the Pennsylvania DHS ordered Wordsworth Academy to cease operations at its Residential Treatment Program, finding that the conditions "constitute a serious danger to the health and safety" of its 90 residents, whose ages range from 12 through 21.

On Thursday, according to Newsworks, City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. introduced a resolution for a joint hearing of the public safety and health and human services committees. The goal, Jones Jr. said, will be to assess the privatization of DHS and ensure that incidents such as this never reoccur.

The Wordsworth Academy, all of whose other programs will stay open, released a statement on its website Thursday afternoon.

We are saddened by the death of a resident in our Residential Treatment Facility on Ford Road in the Wynnefield section of Philadelphia and are devastated at allegations brought against us. Due to the ongoing nature of this investigation, we are limited in our ability to comment on the various allegations raised. We are fully cooperating with all relevant agencies and authorities and are treating this matter with the seriousness and respect it deserves.

We remain committed to our mission of providing education, behavioral health and child welfare services to children and youth experiencing emotional behavioral and academic challenges so that they are empowered to reach their potential and lead productive fulfilling lives.

Wordsworth has a long history in serving youth and families and we remain committed to our mission.

The City Council hearing date was not immediately set.