PROVIDENCE, R.I., June 12 (UPI) -- A Rhode Island school for the developmentally disabled made students do manual labor for little or no pay, federal officials allege.
The accusations against the Harold H. Birch Vocational School were made in a letter from the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department, WPRI-TV reported Tuesday.
The 17-page letter said local and state officials allowed Birch to operate a "sheltered workshop" that separated disabled students from other students, denying them the chance to work in public workplaces once they graduated.
Birch had contracts with private business for the disabled students to do work such as bagging and assembling jewelry to the detriment of the students' education, the letter said.
"One former student stated that she was required to spend a much greater portion of her school day in the workshop, including full days, when the workshop had important production deadlines," the letter said.
Justice officials charged students in the workshop were paid "sub-minimum or no wages."
Providence Mayor Angel Taveras said he was not aware of the program until the federal investigation began in January.
He said the school had "very low expectations" of the disabled students. "I think we all let these students down," Tavares added.
The school has since ended the program, he said. School principal Larry Roberts was placed on leave and has since resigned, a lawyer for the city said.