I was a student at Discovery Ranch from 2012 to 2013. There are a lot of messed up things about the place, so I'll start with school.
The independent study idea sounds great, It really does! But it's no way to learn. They basically give your child a chapter of a textbook for each class they're taking and they expect the kid to study it and pass multiple test on within 4 days. Depending on your level, you have to do more. If you don't pass a certain amount of tests, you will be put on a "protocol" called A-POH. (academic privileges on hold) A-POH lasts a whole week and you lose all your privileges. Its humiliating and beyond unfair for someone who really struggles in school.
I never struggled with self-harm, but I can't imagine how scary it must be to feel urges to hurt your own body. As a punishment for cutting/hurting yourself, the staff put you in a red jumpsuit no matter how hot it is outside. Punishing someone for being in pain is beyond cruel. If you kiss someone or do anything "wrong" they will make you sit in a conference room and isolate you for around 5 days staring at a wall in a school desk. You don't get to eat with the rest of the kids or even go to school with the rest of the kids.
The program is very anti gay because of their religious views. Not only did we have go by their religious dress code, but we were taught that sex is bad and to literally hate yourself if you've had sex.
The calf program is disgusting. It sounds cute and sweet when you first hear about it. It's for the "adoption program". It's supposed to teach the kids that were adopted to accept separation and pain being a mother having to give your child up. Of course, they're cows, and when they reach a certain age, DR sends them to an auction to get slaughtered. My birth mom had no intentions of me being slaughtered. The program just gets money from the cows when they're auctioned off.
Parent phone calls were always supervised by therapists. They never let us talk about the real problems with our relationships and with what was going on at home. A 30 minute phone call once a week for a year will do nothing, I promise.
Some of the staff were great people, but some were extremely mean. You'd have to get on the staffs good side. I can't even count the amount of times staff complained about their pay. I also doubt that the program does any background checks on some of these people.
The food is absolutely disgusting. I gained a huge amount of weight at Discovery Ranch. It was all processed food. They tell the parents they teach the kids to love themselves and their bodies and then they give the kids the most unhealthy foods.
I'd continue, but I hope that you guys get the point. If you're searching for help, please do lots of research before sending your child somewhere. If your child sends you a letter telling you how messed up the place is, LISTEN to them. I have nightmares about Discovery Ranch almost every night. I am currently going to therapy because of the damage they have done.
I wish you and your child luck and I promise things will get better.