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Council reviewing complaints about presidential youth conference

January 29, 2009 |  6:33 pm

The Congressional Youth Leadership Council says it is conducting an “objective review” and setting aside $1 million to settle complaints by some of the 15,000 teens it brought to Washington for a conference centered on the inauguration of President Obama.

Hundreds of parents complained that their children missed the swearing-in ceremony because they were sitting on buses or were left without adult supervision during the five-day Presidential Youth Inaugural Conference.

Organizers said the program suffered from many of the same frustrations that affected the rest of the festivities: record crowds, long security checks and blocked roads that tied up traffic for miles.

“While the vast majority of students who participated in the program had a positive experience, we now know that some said they did not, and for this we are deeply and genuinely sorry,” council co-founder Barbara Harris said in a statement. “As an organization and as a former teacher and lifelong educator myself, we take our responsibility very seriously to deliver a high-quality educational experience for our scholars, and have successfully done so for 25 years.”

In the statement, the council said it had asked former U.S. Atty. Gen. Benjamin Civiletti to conduct a detailed review of the conference so the program could address participants’ complaints and improve future events.

To remedy any “serious mishaps,” the council is offering to pay restitution or provide scholarships to future events. It also plans to set up a parent advisory board, which will meet three times a year with council leadership to help develop future programs.

The Congressional Youth Leadership Council is one of numerous leadership and career programs run by Envision EMI, a for-profit education firm based in Vienna, Va. On a blog set up to coordinate complaints, angry parents expressed skepticism of the company’s efforts and said they were considering legal action.

“I spoke with the new lawyer Envision hired,” wrote Clara Baker, a Sherman Oaks music composer, whose 13-year-old daughter, Dylan, got lost in the crowd on Inauguration Day and did not see any of the ceremony.

“I asked him how he can be unbiased given that Envision is paying him. He said he'll do his best. ... I don't know that I believe that he's taking their money to make a bad report against them.”

She told The Times that she had asked the company to refund more than $3,000 in fees and her daughter’s airfare.

-- Alexandra Zavis