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Safeguard students, Casey says

State Department notes “systematic failure” in foreign exchange program.

While the Aspect Foundation promotes itself as providing once-in-a-lifetime experiences for foreign exchange students, a State Department official called it a “systematic failure,” according to a news release from U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, on Wednesday.

Casey met with a State Department official to urge more safeguards and protections for foreign exchange students after allegations that 12 foreign students placed by the San Francisco, Calif.-based Aspect Foundation may have been placed in unsuitable homes in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties.

Several students in Lackawanna County required medical treatment for malnutrition and dehydration, and one student was living in a residence filled with dog feces, Casey noted.

Other students were placed in homes with unsanitary conditions, including one residing with a family in a home recently condemned by Lackawanna County officials.

The Lackawanna County District Attorney’s office convened a grand jury last week to determine if criminal charges are warranted.

Three of the 12 students are residing in Luzerne County and attending Pittston Area, Wyoming Valley West and GAR high schools.

Luzerne County District Attorney Jacqueline Musto Carroll said one student in Luzerne County may be involved in the investigation in Lackawanna County.

Upon hearing the allegations of mistreatment, Casey prompted the Secretary of State to investigate the oversight of foreign exchange student programs.

Casey met on Tuesday with Miller Crouch, acting assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

“As new details emerge on the intolerable living conditions foreign exchange students were forced to endure in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties, I have concluded that our system failed these young people,” Casey stated in a news release. “In my meeting (Tuesday) with the leading State Department official responsible for the oversight of educational exchange programs, he acknowledged a ‘systematic failure’ on the part of the Aspect Foundation and the need for the Department to establish more safeguards in the process to monitor personnel for the safety and welfare of students.”

A message seeking comment from the Aspect Foundation on Wednesday was not returned. On Monday the organization said it was closing enrollment nationwide because of the local allegations of mistreatment.

In a news release on Monday, foundation Executive Director Vivian Fearen said she was “sickened by the allegations” that several students were placed in unsuitable homes, and claimed the foundation is working with Lackawanna County officials.

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