Ex-allies tussle over program at schools
By KELLY RYAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 8, 2000
LARGO -- The Pinellas School Board on Tuesday got statistics to support what David Fellows and Jane Harper have always said: The On-Campus Intervention Program is wildly successful.
The program sends disruptive students, who otherwise might have been suspended from school, to a special classroom where they keep up with school work and have access to counseling. In the 11 middle schools and high schools where OCIP is offered, out-of-school suspensions have dropped significantly -- in some schools by more than half.
That success has led to a dispute between former allies, Fellows and Harper, about who owns OCIP and whether anyone has the right to sell it.
"We think the world of Mr. Fellows," Harper, president and CEO of the non-profit company Family Resources Inc., told board members Tuesday. "On this particular issue, we want to separate ourselves."
Fellows was chairman of the Clearwater High School Advisory Council in 1994 when out-of-school suspension rates were sky-high. With the help of parents, teachers and a local non-profit that helps troubled youth, the OCIP model was born.
Each OCIP classroom is supervised by a teacher and a counselor with a master's degree. For three to five days, students are assigned to the OCIP classroom, where they stay all day away from their peers. They complete their assignments and participate in group discussions about anger, drugs, stress and other topics.
The OCIP classes are kept small so students get special attention. When the three to five days are up, students are welcome to return to talk to the OCIP counselor or get referrals for family counseling.
"For some of these kids, this is the only place they feel a connection to on campus," said Clare Lannan Seng, the counselor in Clearwater High's OCIP program. "They know they can come back in crisis."
There's not enough money to finance all the schools that want the program, Harper told the board. Seven schools are on a waiting list.
With limited funding, the program has expanded slowly since its debut 1995-96. It has found success on every campus; at Tyrone Middle School, for example, out-of-school suspensions dropped from 1,152 in 1997-98 to 674 in 1999-2000.
Through the program's growth and maturation, Fellows and Harper have worked as a team. Together, they have lobbied for more funding and marketed the program to more schools.
The discord began this summer.
For more than two years, Fellows has lived in Boynton Beach and continued to preach the virtues of OCIP. He decided this summer that acting as an OCIP consultant could be his full-time job. In fact, he is making $1,400 a month now as a consultant for two Boynton Beach OCIP programs.
Fellows started two businesses: for-profit OCIP Inc. and non-profit Suspension Solutions. This summer, he applied for a federal trademark for the OCIP name and concept.
He said his intent is to ensure the integrity of the OCIP name, worried that if the concept takes hold all over the state, some of the programs won't live up to the original standards. He said he never intended to compete with Family Resources.
He visited Harper this summer to tell her that. He said that if he gets a federal trademark, he would never charge Family Resources for using the name or for frequent inspections he plans to make to make sure all the programs are up to par.
"I am not looking to own the program," Fellows said. "I am not trying to plagiarize anyone's material. I wanted to protect the structure of the program."
Harper didn't take the visit as a sign of continued partnership. She felt like Pinellas County could lose the right to continue using the OCIP name. The board at Family Resources was taken aback that Fellows was proposing that Family Resources should affiliate with his new business.
Harper said she doesn't think anyone should profit from a program that was developed in the public domain, using tax money. Anyone who wants to learn how to run the program is welcome at her St. Petersburg office, she said, free of charge.
"We're a non-profit," Harper said in an interview last week. "We believe this program was developed with public funds. We'll share it with anybody. We're not interested in licensing it."
Family Resources quickly sought, and won, a state trademark for the OCIP name and concept. Family Resources also applied for a federal trademark. The federal applications by Fellows and Family Resources are pending.
At the end of September, Family Resources' lawyer sent a letter to Fellows, objecting to his use of "OCIP." The letter, by lawyer Yate Cutliff, says Family Resources "will not hesitate to take legal action" if Fellows is found selling the OCIP training manual or using the program name.
Fellows said he is not sure how the dispute will affect his developing businesses. Like Family Resources, he also has a lawyer.
During Harper's 10-minute presentation to the School Board, she briefly explained the dispute and why Family Resources does not want to affiliate with Fellows. Fellows, 53, had planned to attend the meeting but decided against it because he didn't want his disagreement with Harper to cause a stir.
Board members were united in their support for the program and urged Superintendent Howard Hinesley to look for creative ways to get more funding. Board member Lee Benajmin expressed dismay, as did Hinesley, about OCIP becoming a for-profit venture.
"I am quite shocked to hear the program would be commercialized," Benjamin said. "I certainly do not understand having a trademark for personal gain."
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