PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - A Providence school that caters to developmentally disabled students allegedly violated the Americans with Disabilities Act for years by making students work manual labor for little or no pay and acting as a "pipeline" to a similar program once they graduated, the Target 12 Investigators have learned.

Both Providence and the state allowed the Harold H. Birch Vocational School to operate a "sheltered workshop" that segregated kids with disabilities from other students and denied them the opportunity for integrated employment when they completed their schooling, according to a letter from the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

"Birch obtains contracts with private businesses to perform work, such as bagging, labeling, collating, and assembling jewelry," the letter stated. "One former student stated that she was required to spend a much greater portion of her school day in the workshop, including full days, when the workshop had important production deadlines."

Students were paid "subminimum or no wages" for their labor, according to the Justice Department report. The investigation found that students who were paid made between 50 cents and $2 an hour and sometimes worked weekends.

"The workshop's records pertaining to student hours are extremely limited," the letter states. "It appears that no actual records were kept for each individual's time in the workshop."

Providence Mayor Angel Taveras said he did not know that the sheltered workshop existed until the federal investigation was launched in January. He said the Birch School has since ended the program.

"I think there were very low expectations at that school ... we weren't preparing them to be successful as young adults," Taveras told Target 12. "I think we all let these kids down."

The findings, which Taveras called "outrageous," are detailed in a 17-page letter to the city dated June 7 which outlined the Justice Department's findings and measures to remedy the situation.