Netflix’s The Program: Cons, Cults, and Kidnapping – What Happened Next?

Netflix's The Program tells the story of the Ivy Ridge boarding academy. Here's what it leaves out and where things stand now.

A still from Netflix documentary The Program featuring several adults sitting on chairs in an abandoned classroom.
Photo: Netflix

Netflix’s The Program: Cons, Cults, and Kidnapping is occasionally as hard to watch as it is impossible to ignore. Directed by Katherine Kubler, a former “student” of the troubled-teen-repair institution, the limited documentary series uncovers the appalling conditions of the now-defunct and abandoned Ivy Ridge boarding academy located in the wilds of Oswegatchie, New York.

Kubler attended or was incarcerated in Ivy Ridge from March 2004 to June 2005. She entered at age 15, kidnapped abruptly against her will in the middle of the night on the grievous charge of sipping a Mike’s Hard Lemonade at a previous school. Facing an unbelieving father, Kubler feels the forcefully-abandoned experience she endured stole her teenage years, and continues to embezzle large deposits from her adult psyche. Her post-traumatic stress and persistent panic attacks are a constant reminder of damage that cannot be undone. 

Except maybe through long-form journalism. Kubler self-effacingly calls herself an “amateur gumshoe,” at best, while in the presence of professional journalists and detectives. But the evidence she uncovers in the documentary proves Kubler is a very advanced, and extremely effective sleuth who hits the pavement running, leaving others attempting to keep up. 

Here is everything that happened after the events of The Program: Cons, Cults and Kidnapping and how the doc itself has led to some fresh investigations. 

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What’s Happened Since The Program Premiered?

Kubler gets in the last word toward the end of the documentary series. Crashing a karaoke night her former party camp boss, and duly designated culprit, Narvin B. Lichfield is promoting on social media. Kubler aims her vocals through Debbie Harry and Nigel Harrison’s Blondie hit from Parallel Lines, “One Way or Another.” The warning is as giddily ironic as the photobombs Kubler drops with the man of the hour. It very well might be an unintentional teaser for an upcoming follow-up.

That irony is not lost on viewers who recognized the abusive practices of the school, and brought it to the attention of the District Attorney’s Office, as per North Country Public Radio. WWNY News reported State Assemblyman Scott Gray saying the state attorney general’s office describes allegations of abuse at the old Academy at Ivy Ridge as a “very high priority.” The Assemblyman is reportedly calling for a thorough investigation into allegations at Ivy Ridge Academy. The Netflix investigative special uncovers numerous alleged abuses between 2001 to 2009.

As of March 15, “The St. Lawrence County district attorney’s office is sorting through ‘dozens of accusations,” according to North Country Public Radio “We have received reports of physical abuse as well as sexual abuse from numerous individuals,” St. Lawrence County District Attorney Gary Pasqua said during a press conference. Meanwhile The District Attorney’s Office officially launched an investigation into the Academy on March 11, 2024. The St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office will work in conjunction with New York State Police.

Who Created Ivy Ridge?

In The Program: Cons, Cults, and Kidnapping, the intrepid team of investigators are repeatedly reminded to revisit the primary motivation: “Follow the money.” Ivy Ridge enrolled 600 units at $4,000 per month, for an annual profit of $20 million. Ivy Ridge is one of six behavior modification programs the documentary traces to the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools (WWASPS), a multi-million dollar franchise run by a small group of powerful businessmen based in Utah. The documentary mentions the association’s affiliation with Synanon, the controversial extreme-commitment-drug-addiction-treatment breakoff of Alcoholics’ Anonymous. WWASPS, founded by Mormon Robert Lichfield in 1998, was anointed a successful financial model, the documentary points out, its schools awarded unofficial authority in all educational determinations. They were never, however, awarded proper licenses.

Ivy Ridge was never accredited by the state of New York, according to Kirk Semple’s June 8, 2005 The New York Times piece “Melee Keeps Spotlight on Hard Life at Academy.” In a letter obtained by Watertown WWNY-7 News, reporter Diane Rutherford cites a document from the New York State Department of Education indicating visits to Ivy Ridge found its application had “serious deficiencies in the areas of academics and health and safety.” The letter is dated Nov. 29, 2006, three years before Ivy Ridge was shuttered.

“It’s a failure not to shut that facility down right then and there,” said State Assemblyman Scott Gray. “Those are all significant red flags in that letter and I would have thought at that point in time it should have been shut down immediately.” Recently adding, “I think this needs to be dialed up at a higher level and that’s why I think it requires the AG’s involvement and I will be advocating very, very diligently for their involvement.” 

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The tough love educational center was accredited through the Northwest Association of Accredited Schools in Boise, Idaho, not registered in New York State. 

Ivy Ridge Was Never a Real School 

New York State is so notorious for regulations and oversight, it maddens even the most cynical bureaucratic mind. By issuing diplomas, Ivy Ridge violated state law. Jonathan Burman, a department spokesman for The New York Department of Education, concluded the academy “Is a behavior modification center … and not a school,” in 2005.

The Department of Education cited Ivy Ridge for numerous deficiencies, including “Inadequate systems to protect the health and safety of students; A chain of command that places one group of students over another; Prohibition against students possessing any phone numbers or addresses; Overly restrictive policies regarding student use of restrooms and inadequate staff training related to students.” The unlicensed school was issuing fake diplomas. Many faculty members weren’t qualified to teach children.

The charges are covered in the documentary. New York Governor Elliot Spitzer forced Ivy Ridge to stop issuing high school diplomas altogether. The “diploma” students received upon graduation were not officially recognized by the State of New York. One academy graduate expands on the difficulties of getting into college with such a tainted document in episode 3 of The Program. The repercussions were extensive. The diplomas were “not worth the paper they were printed on,” he explains.

After being fined by the New York State Attorney General’s Office, Ivy Ridge closed up, chaining its doors shut in 2009. The Program: Cons, Cults, and Kidnapping opens on the ruins of the Ivy Ridge campus, sifting through the papers, and revisiting the now-graffitied walls of the educational institution. Evidence of a time when the students tried to take matters into their own all-too-soon-to-be-cuffed hands.

What Happened with The Riot?

Pasqua told reporters the only records of violence ever filed on Ivy Ridge came from the 2005 riot which is covered in Netflix’s The Program. Law enforcement accepted the damage was done by disgruntled residents at the time, and did not record statements of motivation. “There were no allegations of this kind of abuse, physical or sexual, that were raised by individuals that were interviewed at that time,” Pasqua told the press. “Whether or not they were raised at any other time, that is part of our investigation.” He also cautioned many of the older allegations may slip through the cracks of the statute of limitations in prosecution.

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The first inkling of wrongdoing encountered by law enforcement in the small community of Ogdensburg, N.Y., came after administrators called in a riot in the boys’ dormitory, shutting down the school to accommodate a police roundup. According to The New York Times’ “Melee Keeps Spotlight on Hard Life at Academy,” the Ivy Ridge uprising was triggered by a fire alarm pulled at 10:15 p.m. on May 16.

According to reports, some underaged combatants smashed windows, and overturned furniture. Others joined facility security guards, as well as Ogdensburg police officers, state troopers, St. Lawrence County sheriff’s deputies, and the United States Border Patrol, in their efforts to put down the rebellion. Eleven students escaped into the nighttime forests, though reports claim they were rounded up. Twelve students were arrested, charged with rioting and assault, and jailed. The documentary makes the rioters’ limited exposure to real-life incarceration out to be a mini-vacation from the brutalities of the facility they’d risen against.

The academy expelled 48 students, labeled combustible characters, accused of undermining the disciplinary environment necessary to rehabilitate teenagers in trouble with the law, and out of their parents’ reach. This is not a systemic problem, parents were assured. These are bad kids, irredeemable manipulators inventing false allegations of abuse. Ivy Ridge’s director Jason Finlinson told interviewers the school dropped troublesome residents, stigmatizing the young castoffs for future opportunities. As if the school’s diplomas weren’t stigma enough. 

The Program: Cons, Cults, and Kidnapping can be streamed on Netflix now.