International Student Exchange--Followup
Apr 13, 201705:27PM
We first became aware of International Student Exchange when the school sent out an email blast that two exchange students had to be moved due to an emergency with the host family, could anyone help? The idea was to keep them in the same district. These were high school students.
We volunteered to take one, and had to submit an application for approval, for background checks, with photos of the house inside and out, bios, the works.
While waiting for this, I found out I had a mutual acquaintance with the host family, who said that the male householder had been accused of a sexual impropriety (he did not specify), but everyone knew the boy "liked to make up stories."
I was immediately concerned because that can be true, and could be a problem again if he moved into our house, but it's also the first accusation an actual pedophile makes about the victim.
We clarified that the student we'd be hosting was the other one, and were introduced. We were approved by local rep Melissa Plunkett, and a move in date was set.
On the move in date, the investigation was concluded, and his move was canceled. He went back to his host family--Melissa Plunkett.
That's right, the spouse of the accused pedophile was kept in the supervisory position that enabled her to choose their substitute family. Does anyone else see a problem with that? Because I know my training for the Boy Scouts, and the rules for the Salvation Army, and a dozen other groups, most certainly do not allow the accused to have ANY say in contact issues until it's resolved.
Also, this issue was resolved in two weeks. So either no official report was actually filed, which was wrong, or a very, very quick "investigation" was done, which is questionable.
ISE apparently doesn't take complaints of child sexual assault very seriously.
The day that student was supposed to move in, he moved back in with the Plunkett family.
I note that the other young man, who filed the complaint, was not sent back to his home country, so apparently his complaint was not deemed to be maliciously false, just a misunderstanding of some kind. I'm not sure how one misunderstands something like that, but I'm not up on the details of sexual impropriety with teenage boys.
Our primary local contact then said, since we'd already done the background check, home inspection, etc, were we interested in hosting for the spring semester?
We agreed, were matched with options, and we and a family agreed on a young man to host. He arrived shortly after Christmas, we moved him into his own room with his own bathroom and facilities, and started showing him around, taking him to events, helping him comprehend American schools. I like to think we're an ideal family for that. I'm an immigrant myself, from the UK and Canada. Jessica was Reservation born, and relocated from Arizona to the Dakotas to Florida to Texas while young. We both travel extensively and are well educated.
Everything seemed optimal for about six weeks, until another rep entirely showed up for a "routine" second home inspection. This exchange then ensued:
Correspondence with the people running that show, regarding our home:
Mike and Jessica,
I was contacted a couple of days ago by Carrie, the woman who does 2nd home visits for ISE. She was very concerned about the disarray of your home. I explained to her that you both are very busy individuals who have a small child in the home (who I'm sure makes messes faster than one can pick up) and that I would feel comfortable living in your home, even if it were a bit untidy (as is everyone's at times). However, she was so concerned that she recommended to the ISE district manager, Pauline Pipkins, that Boris be found a different home. I contacted Boris (I didn't mention what Carrie had said, just checking in with him to see how he was doing) and he said that he really likes you all and enjoys spending time with your family. He also said he was making friends and likes school. I spoke with Pauline and asked her to please give you guys a chance to tidy up a bit before making a final decision of having Boris removed, since he likes you guys and is happy in your home. She informed me that if the home tidiness situation improves, then Boris can continue to live with you all for the duration of his time here. Carrie Roberts will be making another home visit in the near future to see if the situation has improved. I'm sure that she'll call a day or so ahead of time to make sure that you all will be available. Boris seems to be a nice kid and I hope your family is enjoying hosting him. I look forward to seeing him on Sunday for skiing!
Thanks for hosting,
Jessica Schlenker said:
As I was obviously not here when this visit occurred or aware that it was scheduled, I am unsure what “disarray” is the cause of the concern.
Clarification as to what caused her concern would be helpful. I have been ill the last few weeks with an on-going migraine, and my routine has been scrambled accordingly. However, I will note that none of Cassandra’s weekly in-home therapists, who are mandatory reporters, have expressed any concerns, quite the opposite.
I believe Mike said this occurred on Wednesday, and no mention was made at the time of any concerns. I do know that I received several boxes that day, household goods (Amazon), which were in the living-room when I got home. Mike believes it was neater than when you were last inside, as well.
And, yes, Cassandra actively takes things off shelves and out of boxes at every opportunity. It’s a full time job to keep her toys in one area only. We endeavor to keep her out of the office (non-living area) of the building. However, thanks to things like having to replace the furnace, we have not yet purchased and installed the planned separating doors between the “house” and “office” area. The office is not, however, “living” space.
We have enjoyed having Boris here, and believe it would be detrimental to him to move him for concerns neither he (nor his family, who have had a couple of video “tours” when Boris has Facetime’d them while walking around) have expressed.
Since this is our first time hosting, and we are still settling into the house from moving in (and combining two households), we would appreciate the guidance and clarification first rather than overreaction.
Mike Williamson said
In fact, given that statement, I would appreciate if Pauline came and saw for herself.
Is there any further information or follow up?
We're all rather fretful, as you might expect.
On Jan 29, 2017 6:57 PM, Janel wrote:
I can understand your frustration. I think you all have a beautiful home and saw no problems while I was there. I would feel very comfortable with my own child living there. I forwarded your email to Pauline and told her the same. I also explained to Carrie when she called me that the office wasn't living space and you all were still getting settled in from the move. I'm fighting for you guys because I believe that you're an awesome host family and that Boris really enjoys being there. I hope that you're feeling better. Moms don't have time to be sick.
I'll let you know what I find out.
Melissa Plunkett says:
5:31 PM (47 minutes ago)
Hello. Sorry for the delay. I have a day job and was gone for training all weekend plus I've been having conversations with my manager about your particular situation. I am sorry to say that we are going to need to move Boris. Due to the report coming back as it did and your surprise at the report, it seems we may have different standards of a clean and tidy host environment. I had asked janel to speak with you and wanted to set up a second visit but there is concern that you don't see it as a problem and unfortunately Boris does see it as a concern for him as well. He would never say that to you guys, as he does think you are very nice and would not want to hurt your feelings or make you angry with him. He appreciates all that you've done and we do as well, but we do have state standards that we have to meet (different than what the department of state for child welfare ) and our standards are very rigid for exchange students. I am sorry to have to send this to you and please know that we all know that you are good people who really wanted to host a student as we know many others who do and are unable to for many different reasons and situations. I encourage you to consider trying again with a student next year if you are willing/able to tidy and keep tidy your home. I can share our definition of that if you'd like. Again I am sorry and I will keep you advised of a move date but I expect it would be before the end of the week.
Per Janel's below instructions, I am contacting you. If you have any information regarding when a second visit will happen, that would be appreciated. We have not had any contact regarding it.
We are still pending a response to our original questions regarding clarification as to what caused the "concern" about "disarray," as well as the request for clearer guidelines. I have looked through everything possible on the ISE website and handbooks, and found nothing specific or clear. As noted to Janel previously, we have two mandatory reporters -- my 2 year old's speech and occupational therapists, via the state's First Steps program -- in the house weekly, and they have not voiced concerns. (Three different individuals now, as one of her regular therapists is on maternity leave, and there is a substitute therapist here on a different schedule than before until she's back.)
I am bothered by the vacuum that appears to have happened in regards to information. Mike and I are absolutely willing to follow guidance insofar as possible and reasonable, but that guidance has not been made available.
Feeling it fair to Boris, we apprised him of the information that there was an issue when we were informed (which surprised and flabbergasted him), and he has asked a few times if we have any further information as to what would happen. I would like to be able to reassure him, but so far all I've been able to do is say "I don't know."
Sorry it took so long getting back to you. I usually try to return emails in a timely manner. I was attempting to get a definite answer from someone about what exactly is going on. Melissa Plunkett, my supervisor, has been speaking to Pauline about when a second visit would happen. It would be best for you to contact Melissa. Her email is [redacted]. I'm sorry that I can't be more help.
Jessica Schlenker says:
5:58 PM (20 minutes ago)
Yes, obviously, which is why I requested standards and information, because I could not find anything when the concern came up.
It seems that Boris suddenly became okay with moving into a new location after finding out he'd be moving in with a friend.
When Janel contacted him originally, without any discussion about why she was, he had nothing bad to say. When we told him there was a concern, he was shocked, surprised, and immediately said he has no issues or worries. We *asked*. All that Janel would say is that there would be another inspection.
I am sorry that my desire to be cooperative and helpful has been found to be offensive. I requested guidance as to how to meet these undocumented standards, so that there wouldn't be a misunderstanding.
Unfortunately, as these standards are apparently beyond what daily vacuuming, cleaning, and general pickup can accomplish, I believe we will not ever be "fit" for this program.
My apologies for our efforts.
Mike Williamson says:
I just spoke to Boris, politely. He was very embarrassed about all of this. He also seemed very unsure, as if he'd been told it was "for the best," not given a choice, and was trying to convince himself it was of benefit.
It seems he was told he was moving, and in with a friend, and felt that would be more fun. He did express that the 2 year old makes a bit more mess than he is comfortable with. We do clean regularly. We have vacuumed three times this week. Had he ever mentioned this, and I asked frequently, we would have made additional cleanup efforts, though it appears you're not actually aware of what a 2 year old can do in a half hour.
Pauline [actually, Carrie. I have trouble keeping track of all the voices in this, one of whom I met for two minutes, most of whom never even spoke to me directly] deceitfully did not express any concerns at all during her visit. If she had an issue, that would be the time to tell us. She failed to do so.
It's been three weeks since then. Clearly, urgency in this case was lacking.
It's been three weeks. You still have failed to provide guidelines on what is considered acceptable. It seems one person's word with no criteria or photos is enough to cause all this uproar. BTW, yes, the outside of the house was a bit disorganized. It's called a "windstorm" and my industrial stuff from my former office is not yet fully situated in the garage. It in no way affected livability, and again, if that was a concern, it would be both polite and professional to make mention at the time.
Carrie didn't even actually enter any room other than Boris' and the living room. It appears she entered the house, decided she was done, and left in about two minutes.
As mentioned before, our daughter has a speech therapist and a occupational therapist in the house weekly. They have mandatory reporting guidelines to the State of Indiana for any issues they see. When queried, they informed me our house is far above average and they have zero concerns.
Carrie's complete failure to act in a courteous and professional manner, and her deceitfulness.
The inability of the rest of your organization to provide any sort of examples or guidelines as to what was deemed wrong, suggesting that they are arbitrary and capricious.
Your refusal to follow through with the re-inspection you promised, even without furnishing more criteria.
Your apparent dishonesty in promising the above, then refusing to do so.
Your inability to follow through in a timely manner, regarding this alleged problem.
Your complaint that our inability to understand and comply with mysterious guidelines IN ADDITION to the written guidelines, that you cannot provide in this timeframe.
The stress Boris is undergoing, after settling in, and now being moved, and without any real feedback we are aware of.
It appears your organization does not meet the standards I require, in terms of maintaining standards, communication, and professionalism.
Accordingly, we most certainly will not involve ourselves with you again.
I feel sorry for Boris, the victim in all of this. I wish him well and hope the rest of his stay is positive. It's a shame he won't get to see Chicago, Columbus OH, Nashville and Louisville, as we had planned with my professional appearance schedule. Hopefully his other hosts can offer him some travel opportunities.
Our thanks to Janel for being the only professional voice in this discourse.
By the way, this is how Boris got the money for his New York, DC and skiing trips: https://www.gofundme.com/send-boris-to-new-york-and-dc
UPDATE 13 Feb. 17: Melissa informed Boris via text that he was moving today. He told me, I explained the concerns, he texted her to phone me. She refused. I contacted ISE headquarters at 1620, who said they were unaware of the issue, and are investigating. The rep on the phone agreed the procedure sounds nonstandard, but didn't say more, pending investigation.
At 1815 Melissa showed up with a police officer (for which I'm actually grateful--at least there was some sort of official logging. She brought no documentation. I invited her into the house to see it and offer feedback if she had any complaints. She refused. The officer came in at my request and said he saw nothing out of the ordinary or of concern, and that he would ensure to log the fact that she did not have documentation with her.
In case you were wondering, this is what our house looked like in this timeframe:
Guest bathroom, utility room (and note, there are two other full bathrooms in the house, available for use):
22 CFR 62.25(d)(10)(k)(1) also reads : (k) Host family orientation. In addition to the orientation requirements set forth in §62.10, sponsors must:
(1) Inform all host families of the philosophy, rules, and regulations governing the sponsor's exchange visitor program, including examples of “best practices” developed by the exchange community;
Which they refused, in writing, to do.
I asked Ms Plunkett to please come into the house, escorted by the officer, to explain what on the premises was deemed so problematic. She shook her head and said, "no." Note that she has never actually been in the house, and was making this decision based on hearsay from "Carrie" whom we had never met before or since. The officer did follow me in, looked around, and admitted he saw no cause for concern from a professional point of view.
So let's recap: the accused pedophile was recused in two weeks. We were considered so unfit due to alleged "disarray" the student had to be moved, but it took three weeks to do so, and it required the presence of a police officer to do so. Neither our state-sponsored care givers nor the police saw any problem. The problem isn't one they can explain now, but can explain later, but isn't written down, and we should know what it is anyway.
At no point was any kind of paperwork presented to us, and the officer said he had not seen any. Plunkett's word was simply taken as authoritative on the relocation of a foreign national on US soil.
And Melissa Plunkett is a liar, as both Boris and his father insisted they were unaware of this issue until we informed them, and he was only notified by text 24 hours before they removed him.
I think others will concur with me that this couldn't actually have had anything to do with our house. I'm not sure what was involved, but that doesn't reasonably seem to be it.
Then, ISE's attorney tried to claim to my attorney that posting the correspondence verbatim constituted "defamation." What an interesting legal notion.
As a curious sort, I started investigating.
It's amazing how much information people leave on the internet.
Melissa Plunkett collects "children." As she's one of the oversight reps, she's not supposed to also host children, but she does. She seems to host two at a time, but only lists a single one on Facebook, who she identifies as her "child." These are 17 to 18 year old exchange students, but they're her "children." And in fact, having interacted with them at some of the group events, she even requires them to call her "mother." It was a bit disturbing to see one of these boys, near 18, publicly call a woman he'd lived with for two weeks, "Mother." She still lists some of these students from the last decade as her "children" on her FB profile.
They also seem to swap kids a lot. The Brazilian boy who "made up the tale" about being sexually imposed on, was replaced with a Chinese boy.
She boasts that they must attend her church specifically, regardless of their own faith. They're her kids and she will see to their moral guidance, or whatever she uses instead.
As I helped take exchange students to sporting events, I drove to her house several times. It's not a bad house, but it's a tiny house. About 1300 sq feet. They have four kids of their own, and two unauthorized exchange students at any given time.
(22 CFR 62.25(d)(10)(i) reads: (10) Refrain, without exception, from acting as:
(i) Both a host family and a local coordinator or area supervisor for an exchange student
So the kids are stacked like boxes in a warehouse. I'm pretty sure 6 kids in two bedrooms in that little space is against policy. It's certainly a good reason for them not to criticize our living arrangements--we gave the student his own bedroom and bathroom separate from the rest of us, in a house well over twice the size. We have a 16 year old and a 2 year old. Three kids, three bedrooms for kids. (Note that the rules allow for sharing rooms with a same sex CHILD. Singular, not plural, and not with adults. No couchsurfing.)
As to what her place looks like, not terrible, but she's certainly not in a position to criticize my dining table:
She's a part time Montessori teacher, and he's apparently a prison guard for the state. While those are worthy jobs, neither is a financially lucrative job. They seem to be earning in the range of about $60K between them, which with four kids probably puts them below the poverty line, and begs the question of how they can still host two more.
They even apparently vacationed in Australia. That seems to be several months' income. This may explain some of their financial issues.
In fact, in late 2014 their modest house went into foreclosure, all the way to sheriff auction, and was only saved by declaring bankruptcy.
Yet somehow, in the two years after that, they apparently found enough money for more vacation trips to the Czech Republic, and Cozumel, Mexico. It also appears they may have taken one of the exchange students out of country, which is against company policy and legally questionable in case of trouble.
They own four relatively new vehicles including a Jeep and SUVs, and also a Harley.
That seems to be a heck of a lot of money for a couple in a small house with four kids, modest income, and a recent bankruptcy. It does cause one to wonder how and where a prison guard might acquire such funds.
After the bankruptcy, and just before the allegations came out, Melissa Plunkett seems to have started a profile on Couchsurfing.com. It's not completed, but certainly a red flag and unsafe. I wouldn't want random strangers stopping at my house, a prison guard certainly shouldn't, and it's definitely not advisable with exchange students, and begs the question of why you have random strangers stopping by your "fun" family and young foreign guests. Desperate for income for the unsupportable lifestyle? Some sort of code for some sort of unsavory community? An attempt to get even more young adults into the house?
This seems to be some strange little ladies' club of kid-swapping and kid hoarding. It appears to violate federal law, company policies, ethical and moral guidelines, but is apparently A-OK with International Student Exchange.
Completely apart from that, when I first mentioned this to friends, every single person who had ever dealt with this agency described them as "cash and dash." All they want is money, and after that, the kids are on their own. They would, in fact, have more legal protection if they were illegal immigrants.
If you do plan to host any students, I'd suggest avoiding this organization entirely.
And by the way, our daughter will not be attending that Montessori, or getting anywhere near this bizarre woman or her dishonest, kid-hoarding, potential pedo friends.