LAKELAND, Fla. - Former students of a Lakeland boarding school for girls are speaking out after a girl died there. Naomi Wood died in May of 2020 after weeks of stomach pains and asking to see a doctor but being denied, according to a report from the Florida Department of Children and Families.
Wood's death has former students of the Lakeland Girls Academy doing something they haven’t done before: speaking out about what they consider an out-of-control facility. FOX 13’s Ken Suarez spoke to a number of them to find out what their lives were like there.
On the outside, not a blade of grass seems to be out of place at Lakeland Girls Academy. Former students say inside, behind closed doors, life is like an overzealous boot camp that uses severe techniques to try and get girls to fall into line.
They say new girls can’t talk to each other for the first six months.
"So, if you got there you couldn’t talk to a girl who has been there four months, at all. You could not even speak her name," former student Madison Acosta said.
"They monitor the phone calls completely, and if they don’t like what you’re saying they’ll mute you so your mom or dad can’t hear you," said former student Emily Victor.
The young women say shaming and shunning are frequently used. When you are shunned no one can talk to you.
In it, CPT medical director Dr. Carol Lilly wrote that shunning is not recommended for children like Wood, who displayed symptoms of depression and anxiety, saying it is "likely to cause harm."
The former students say the shunning could last for long periods of time.
"They will have you wear a reflection vest, a bright green vest that usually you see construction workers wearing, and you wear that for however long your period of discipline is. It could be a week. I have seen girls on it for months," said former student Alexis Abella.
They said it was different when they were in public.
"They would make you wear a red shirt and a black skirt, and you have to wear that everywhere," Abella said.
So, everyone would know that you were the outcast, they say there were also rigid rules about what to do if a guy was around.
"Unless they are a member of the church or the director of the program, you’re told to look down. Anytime you’re in view, you’re told to look down, you’re not allowed to look up at the man," Abella said.
They all say their time at Lakeland Girls Academy was lonely, rough, and they didn’t get the personal help and counseling they needed.
"Do you see any positives? No, I don’t," Abella said.
It’s possible only the disgruntled former students are talking, but administrators who run the program – as of now -- are not, leaving our requests for a comment or statement unanswered.