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Reformatory CP - November 2001

Corpun file 8504


St Louis Post-Dispatch, Missouri, 16 November 2001

Officer Tells Of Violent Incidents At School

Hearing Focuses On Removal Of Students From Christian Academy

By Terry Ganey
Jefferson City Bureau Chief

A juvenile officer testified Thursday that he had to seek the removal of 115 youngsters from a religious boarding school in northeastern Missouri because of newly reported cases of violence. Michael Waddle, a state juvenile officer based in Kirksville, said two boys who had run away from the Heartland Christian Academy told him Oct. 22 that a boy had been hurt in a scuffle with a staff member.

Waddle also said that he was told a staff member had encouraged a boy to punch a mirror, causing the boy to hurt his hand. Waddle said those reports - one of which prompted an assault charge against a staff member - led him to ask a juvenile judge to order protective custody for the school's boarding students.

Waddle's testimony came during the second day of a hearing before U.S. District Judge E. Richard Webber. Webber has ordered a halt in the removal of children from Heartland unless juvenile officers can demonstrate to him that there is a specific danger. The hearing Thursday began with testimony from Dr. Gilbert Kliman, a psychiatrist who is an expert in child abuse cases. Kliman, who had been hired by Heartland, said many of the removed children already suffered from severe emotional problems. The state's action made some of their conditions worse, he said.

Missouri Highway Patrol officers and sheriff's deputies helped remove 115 students from the school on Oct. 30. The students were loaded onto school buses for the 75-minute trip to juvenile detention facilities in Kirksville. They were later released to their parents. It took some parents days to collect their children because the families lived out of state. Webber earlier had issued an order saying the state's action was "intensely disturbing to the children." But Waddle testified that it would be difficult for him to protect children in child-abuse cases if he had to travel to Webber's court each time to prove the state should intervene.

In the case that led to the assault charge, a staff member injured a 13-year-old boy during a scuffle, authorities said. The boy had been involved in three fights and was being held down while another staff member prepared to swat the boy with a paddle. According to school officials, the boy bit one staff member on the arm. When the staff member jerked his arm, he hit the boy on the ear. The boy, a 13-year-old from Houston, was later found to have a ruptured ear membrane. Waddle said he was told the staff member had struck the boy deliberately.

Waddle said he was also concerned because Heartland officials allowed staff members previously accused of child abuse to remain in contact with children. Eight staff members have been accused of child abuse in connection with two incidents. In one, children were forced to shovel manure in a large pit. In the second, a child was allegedly struck 30 times with a paddle and afterward forced to sit on a metal chair. Waddle said the state Division of Family Services had substantiated 16 cases of reported child abuse involving the school. Eleven of those reports involved the manure pit incident. One of the others concerned a paddling administered by Charles N. Sharpe, the founder of the school. Waddle said the report was that the girl had "massive bruising to both buttocks" after being struck 30 to 35 times by Sharpe with a wooden paddle. Sharpe has not been charged. Asked about the report, Sharpe said, "I spanked her, but I didn't abuse her."

Waddle said he believed Heartland had "tremendous potential to do great things for kids. But it has pockets and areas of its program with problems." He said 10 percent of the school's population are students who are really difficult to manage. Waddle said a mature, trained staff was needed to take care of a population like that, "not 19-year-old males without experience or training."

Corpun file 8505


St Louis Post-Dispatch, Missouri, 18 November 2001

School's Supporters Remain Loyal Despite Abuse Charges

After State Ordered Children Removed, 75 Have Returned

By Terry Ganey And Matthew Franck
Of The Post-Dispatch

During a federal court hearing on child abuse allegations against the Heartland Christian Academy last week, a teen-age boy in the audience sometimes fidgeted and sometimes paid close attention. He listened carefully to the arguments any time the initials "O.M." came up.

That's because he is O.M., a 13-year-old whom authorities did not identify but who was at the center of the court's proceedings. When O.M.'s eardrum was punctured in a scuffle with a Heartland staff member, it was the last straw for Michael Waddle, a state juvenile officer. On Oct. 30, Waddle successfully petitioned a state juvenile judge for the forcible removal of 115 children from the facility, in northeastern Missouri. Waddle said Heartland's environment was dangerous for children.

But Heartland says O.M. is an example of the good it is doing. Despite his injury, both the boy and his mother believe Heartland is the best place for him. O.M. has returned to the school. Parents of 74 other children sent theirs back as well, despite warnings from Waddle that the parents could be jailed and their children placed in protective custody.

Heartland is a nondenominational Christian school for kindergarten through high school students near Newark, Mo. Charles N. Sharpe, the owner of Ozark National Life Insurance, founded the school and has donated millions of dollars to its construction and operation. Many of its students come from troubled backgrounds.

State officials have brought child abuse charges against a half-dozen Heartland staff members for forcing children to shovel manure and for a paddling. Waddle has sent two letters to parents warning them about conditions at Heartland. He said he felt it was his duty to keep parents apprised about what was going on there. Lawyers for the school say the letters threaten the school's existence. "Heartland's very survival is at stake," they say in documents filed in federal court. The case was before U.S. District Judge E. Richard Webber, who had ruled that the state went too far when it used sheriff's deputies and Highway Patrol troopers to remove children from the school. A video of the event showed children crying and hugging and resisting attempts to put them on buses for the ride to a juvenile detention center in Kirksville, Mo. Because of the move's effect on the children, Webber said, he couldn't watch all of the video. Webber said Friday that his ban on the state's removal of children from Heartland remained in effect.

Accusers and defenders

During his testimony, Waddle said he was not opposed to Christian education and was not trying to go after Sharpe. Some of the school's supporters have made those suggestions. And while 75 children have gone back to the school, about 40 have not - a reflection of the differences of opinion about the school.

Some parents believe Heartland's discipline, structure and moral teachings provide the best environment for their children. Others believe the school's "tough love" format goes too far. "I would put my daughter back there two seconds from now, and I would keep her there for two or three years if I could," said Mark Benz of O'Fallon, Mo. He said his 17-year-old daughter had been "totally out of control" with alcohol and drug problems. He paid up to $3,000 a month at other facilities with no results. At Heartland, he said, his daughter responded - so much, in fact, that her mother felt it would be OK to take her out. His daughter has since left home and has picked up old habits, Benz said. "Both my wife and I would die to get her back in there," he said. Benz said he believed in corporal punishment and had never heard his daughter say anything suggesting that Heartland was guilty of abuse.

Before the abuse charges began, Heartland had about 220 students, half of them boarders. Parents registering their children are made aware that the school uses corporal punishment. The child abuse charges stem from two incidents - the paddling of a student in February 2000 that allegedly left deep bruises and the forcing of youngsters to shovel manure in a deep pit. Waddle said a lot of the trouble could have been avoided with a more mature, better-trained staff.

Roy Cochenour, who once lived on the Heartland campus and worked there, said he left after 15 months because he found forms of discipline degrading. Cochenour said his 5-year-old son had been paddled for not eating mashed potatoes. He said students were forced to run until they vomited, while staff members barked insults from a pickup. Other students were made to suck pacifiers all day for speaking out, or wear what the school calls the "ugly dress."

According to Cochenour, the staff seemed to be competing among themselves to come up with harsh punishments. Cochenour had moved to Heartland in August 1999 with his wife and their five children. His wife was the school librarian, and he worked in the dairy. Cochenour, who now lives in Novelty, Mo., said Heartland had worked miracles with many teen-agers. But he said it was gradually being eaten away by corruption. "We had no desire of leaving," he said. "But you don't beat kids to Christ."

"They crossed the line"

Waddle learned about O.M.'s injury from two runaway boys on Oct. 22. The report led to an assault charge against Jason Flood, 19, a staff member. The charge says Flood elbowed O.M. on the ear. School officials say O.M. had been involved in three fights and was being restrained to take a paddling. They say O.M. bit Flood's arm, and when Flood jerked his arm his elbow accidentally struck the boy on the ear. O.M. was later treated at a Hannibal hospital for a punctured eardrum. O.M. told a reporter last week that his ear was better and that he didn't think what had happened to him was child abuse. "They got nothing on Heartland," O.M. said.

If there is middle ground on Heartland it's occupied by Lisa Wilcox of Alton, whose daughter has attended the school on two occasions. Wilcox believes the abuse charges have been exaggerated and says her daughter was not at risk of abuse. She also credits Heartland with turning her daughter around - once when she was 15, and again at age 17. But Wilcox also pulled her daughter out of the school in anger a month ago. Wilcox, who is Lutheran, said the school's fundamentalist Christian leaders tried to drive a wedge between her and her daughter. She said her daughter often told her mother that she was destined for hell. The school ignores parents - particularly those of other faiths, Wilcox said. "They crossed the line," Wilcox said, when she called to arrange a day out with her daughter but was told she would have to fill out a form.

blob Follow-up: 12 January 2002 - Charges Are Dropped Against One Worker At Christian School

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