CHICAGO -- The Rev. John Smyth, the beleaguered head of Maryville Academy, said Wednesday state officials had rebuffed his efforts to discuss the school's future.
"I wish we could sit down like true adults and think about the rights of the children and what's in the true interest of the children," Smyth told reporters after attending a Chicago City Council Finance Committee meeting.
Smyth, as well as Cook County State's Attorney Richard Devine and Cook County Public Guardian Patrick Murphy, had urged committee members to help keep the Des Plaines institution open despite a closure order by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Smyth suggested that rather than have a blanket transfer of all 138 of Maryville's residents to other facilities or foster care, residents who are older than 16 years should make their own decisions.
"I think they have a right to express their opinion and say, 'this is my life, and I have the right to do what's best for my life,' " said Smyth.
Devine said each child's situation should be examined carefully.
"What we have to do is look at each individual child. There may be instances where, because of the child and the care that's available, maybe everyone would agree a move in that particular case is warranted," said Devine.
Murphy, who earlier this week filed a lawsuit to hold off transferring residents, said the overwhelming majority of children would want to remain there.
"There are hundreds of kids in the system today who need places like Maryville, who need residential care," Murphy said.
The committee, which has no legal authority over the suburban school, recessed before a group of former Maryville students and their supporters backing closure could speak. Group members voiced their objections so vociferously, they had to be escorted out of the City Council chamber where the Finance Committee had been meeting.
"For them to close down the meeting was a disservice to these youth," said Toni Stith, leader of a parent advocacy group, For My Child. "They don't want Maryville exposed for the atrocities committed there. These kids are unemployed and without an education. The system has totally and completely failed them. For (Finance Committee Chairman) Ward Alderman Edward Burke to run the clock down on us was ridiculous and a slap in the face to these children."
Later, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley called Maryville a "great institution" and implied it might not be in the best interests of the children to be moved.
However, he said the Maryville issue is a state problem, not a local one.
"These are wards of the state of Illinois, not the city of Chicago," Daley said.
Outside the Council chamber, former Maryville residents shared horror stories from their time at the facility, including what they claimed were repeated instances of rape, torture, verbal abuse and physical abuse.
"It is very unsafe," said Ramissa Maat, 16, who said she lived at Maryville for three years from age 10 to 13. "There have been numerous incidents where students have been raped by staff members and other students. My friend committed suicide because she couldn't handle the stress of living there."
Freddie Cavin, 18, who said he lived at Maryville from 1998 to 2002, said a staff member hit his friend over the head with a garbage can.
"It's not Father Smyth. It's the staff," Cavin said. "The only problem with Father Smyth is he won't listen to the kids about the staff."