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« on: September 06, 2002, 05:05:00 AM »
Unwilling teen's stay in Jamaica debated

Marianne Costantinou, OF THE EXAMINER STAFF   Thursday, January 8, 1998  


Court to decide if parents have right to send son away for behavior modification

OAKLAND - No one denies that his parents love him.

But did his parents have the right to hire strangers to whisk him away in the middle of the night, and ship him to a psychiatric hospital in Utah and then to a school in Jamaica, all against his will?

At what age do the civil liberties of 16-year-old David Van Blarigan override the right of his parents to decide what's best for him?

It's a vexing question for Superior Court Judge Ken M. Kawaichi, who listened to both sides of the emotional issue at a daylong hearing Wednesday at the Alameda County Courthouse.

The judge is being asked to rule on whether David's parents should be ordered to remove him from the Jamaican school and bring him home to Oakland. The judge promised a decision Jan. 20.

In November, Jim and Sue Van Blarigan sent their son, David, to a behavior-modification program in Jamaica to deal with what they saw as his discipline problems.

The parents' lawyers refused to disclose what his behavioral problems were, but said David had no criminal record, did not take drugs or drink alcohol and was not violent.

The Oakland Tribune quoted a neighbor who brought the case to authorities' attention as saying David was a typical teenager who was rebelling against his parents' strict religious upbringing.

The prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Robert B. Hutchins, who filed the civil suit on behalf of David, claimed that the post-midnight removal of David from his home here on Nov. 10 was nothing less than kidnapping, and that his subsequent unwilling stay at Tranquility Bay, a behavior-modification program in Jamaica, was false imprisonment.

To Hutchins, David is old enough to repeat the familiar refrain of children - "No, I don't want to, and you can't make me" - and have the legal power to make it stick.

"I think this solution is too drastic," Hutchins told the judge, referring to the Van Blarigans' decision to send David to Jamaica. "That boy has rights."

But Daniel Koller, on behalf of David's parents, argued that the state had no legal right to interfere with parents' authority. Taken to its logical extreme, Koller asked rhetorically, should the courts step in when a recalcitrant kindergartner refuses to go to school?

"The state is telling the parent what to do," Koller said in his opening statement. "The state has no business doing that."

Both attorneys cited case law to buttress their positions. But despite the existence for years of scores of "schools" such as Tranquility Bay, the specific circumstances in this case seem unprecedented.

The hearing was punctuated with sparring and bickering between the two attorneys. Each seemed to take the case personally. Koller has a son in a similar program. Hutchins has been a child advocate for years.

The morning session was standing-room only, filled with dozens of parents who also have sent their children to programs such as Tranquility Bay. Several were called to testify about how pleased they were with the program.

Many seemed to take umbrage at Hutchins' obsession with the contracts the Van Blarigans signed to enroll David at Tranquility Bay and at Brightway Adolescent Hospital in Utah, where a psychiatrist, after a one-hour interview, decided David needed a yearlong stay at the Jamaican residential program.

The contracts gave the facilities the authority to use restraints, including pepper spray, mace, stun guns and handcuffs, to control David.

The half-dozen parents and staff members who testified claimed that such restraints had not been used on any child, to their knowledge. <
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