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R.I. school for disabled accused of running sweatshop by Dept. of Justice

The Harold H. Birch Vocational School in Providence, R.I. mistreated developmentally disabled students, the U.S. Justice Dept. alleges.
WPRI
(CBS/AP) PROVIDENCE, R.I. - The U.S. Justice Department has found that a Providence vocational school ran what amounted to a sweatshop involving developmentally disabled students.

CBS affiliate WPRI reports the department's Civil Rights Division sent a letter to Providence and Rhode Island officialsl outlining violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act at the Harold H. Birch Vocational School.

The department found disabled students at the school, which is part of the Providence School District, were paid little or nothing while working long hours in a "sheltered workshop" bagging, labeling, collating and assembling jewelry under contracts between the school and private businesses. It also found students were funneled into the Training Through Placement program (TTP), a similar segregated program, after leaving Birch.

Mayor Angel Taveras says the city shut down the program and is entering into a settlement agreement with the Justice Department. He says he's also talking with public safety officials about a criminal investigation.

According to WPRI, Taveras said the city immediately placed Larry Roberti - the longtime principal at the school - on leave. A lawyer for the city reportedly said Roberti resigned on Tuesday.

Roberti was reportedly on the cusp of being fired in April before an outpouring of support from over 20 elected officials, parents and students saved his job. Taveras told WPRI that he didn't think some of Roberti's supporters were aware of the accusations levied against the school as early as 2011.

The report filed by the U.S. Justice Department found that the school board was warned about potential problems at the vocational school in a 2011 review, the station reports. Taveras and Providence School Superintendent Susan Lusi reportedly said they were unaware of the findings in the 2011 report.

Red flags were also previously raised regarding TTP, according to the station. The head of the non-profit organization and his son were charged with conspiracy in April after police say they stole money from the program.

John Capobiano Sr., 67, and John Capobianco Jr., 40, both of Johnston, R.I., turned themselves into North Providence Police and were charged with conspiracy. The son was also charged with embezzlement.

The Capobiancos have both pleaded not guilty and the case is still pending, the station reports.

  • Crimesider Staff

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