2007 Jun 10: ASSE: Exchange-student problems bring shake-up

By Randy Ellis Modified: June 10, 2007 at 7:02 am •  Published: June 10, 2007
Troublesome situations that six foreign exchange students encountered at Oklahoma City’s Bayard Rustin Living Learning Center should never have happened and steps have been taken to make sure they don’t happen again, said the regional director of the exchange organization that placed the students there.

ASSE International Student Exchange Programs has replaced its local representative and will never again send a student to Bayard Rustin, said Terri Joski, ASSE’s regional director.

Concerning ASSE’s former local representative, Joski said: “Clearly, his judgment was not very good.”

Criminal background checks by The Oklahoman revealed that two host parents used by the organization for Bayard Rustin students had felony criminal convictions.

Those felony records should have been uncovered during a criminal background check required by the U.S. State Department, Joski said.

ASSE paid an outside company to perform the background checks, but for some yet to be explained reason, those checks did not reveal the felony convictions, she said.

“If we had gotten results like that back, we cannot place a student in a home with a convicted felon,” she said.

Name changes possible

Individuals with minor criminal infractions in their distant past can sometimes serve as host parents, but the exchange student and the student’s natural family must approve, Joski said.It is unclear whether name changes and aliases were a factor in the organization’s failure to discover the criminal backgrounds of Lauret Hooks and Toshav L. Storrs.

Court records show both have gone by other names in the past. Hooks has used at least seven other names, including Jean Miller and Lovin’ Spoonful Hooks, records show.

Storrs used to be known as Tony Lamonte Greene. He changed his first name to Toshav when he converted to Judaism in 1990 and took the last name Storrs when he and Phillip Storrs united their lives in a gay commitment ceremony in New York in 1995. The couple since has split and Toshov Storrs now lives with another gay partner and his partner’s elderly mother.

Joski said ASSE was not told that Storrs was living with a gay partner when it placed students in his home.

The organization does have some gay host families, but ASSE’s policy is to fully inform students and their natural families before placing a student in a nontraditional home, she said.

Joski said it also upset her when students reported that Storrs and his partner would leave them to care for the partner’s elderly mother, who suffered a stroke a few years back, while they left on some weekends.

“That is not an acceptable situation,” Joski said. “We weren’t made aware of the partner or the mother.”

Not like a school

ASSE also did not know that Hooks’ home was infested with cockroaches, Joski said.ASSE requires its representative to do home visits, but there is no guarantee that home visits will detect that type of problem, she said.

Just by chance, Joski said she and a coordinator happened to be in Oklahoma City in January and decided to drop by Bayard Rustin.

“It was a very eye-opening experience,” she said. “I thought it was more like a community hang out place for kids than a school.”

Joski said ASSE gives every foreign exchange student the telephone number of his or her local representative as well as the telephone number of the regional office.

They are told to call if there is any kind of emergency, she said.

All students removed

All six Bayard Rustin foreign exchange students were removed from the school and their original host families as problems became known, Joski said. Some were at Bayard Rustin for a few weeks, while others were there several months.The students finished the year living with other host families and attended various public schools — where they reported much happier experiences.

“I’m a little sad it didn’t come up sooner,” Joski said. “We want them to have a good time on the program.”

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