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Reformatory CP - March 2002

Courier-Journal, Louisville, Kentucky, 1 March 2002

Tough love or abuse?

Families defend, assail academy

School denies state's allegations

By Alan Maimon
The Courier-Journal

Michael Lewis, an 18-year-old student who chose to stay at Beulah Mountain Christian Academy after it was shut down last month, studied in the school library. Another adult student who stayed at the academy, Brandon Jowers, said, "There's no abuse going on."


Flags have flown at halfstaff since the shutdown.

WHITLEY CITY, Ky. -- Tina Hanna believes Beulah Mountain Christian Academy's caring but stern discipline gave her grandson a sense of respect.

But Rhonda Campbell said the McCreary County boarding school's corporal punishment gave her sons nightmares. One of her boys said students were "treated worse than animals."

The academy, on the edge of the Daniel Boone National Forest, was shut down by an emergency court order last month after state social workers said children were being physically and emotionally abused and that the academy lacked a state license as a child-care facility.

In a written request to McCreary Circuit Court, the Kentucky Cabinet for Families and Children alleged six cases of abuse between last October and Jan. 22, one of them sending a 9-year-old boy to Lake Cumberland Regional Medical Center for treatment of bruises on his shoulder, arm, back, buttocks and leg.

Academy officials denied the abuse allegations and said the school doesn't need a state license as a private, religious facility. It gets $250,000 annually from the Bible Missionary Church, a Rock Island, Ill.based denomination with churches in 40 states and overseas and with about 10,000 members in the United States.

A circuit court hearing is expected soon on whether the academy -- where flags have flown at half-staff since the shutdown -- can reopen. The school has 20 days to respond to the order from the day it was issued, Feb. 14.

At a seperate district court hearing today in McCreary County, a judge will consider what to do with four children who remain at Louisville's Home of the Innocents, where 27 of the academy's 30 students were taken by bus after it closed. The other 23 have been returned to their homes. The three who remained at the academy are 18 years old and, as adults, could not be forced to leave.

A spokesman for the Cabinet for Families and Children said background checks on the four children in Louisville indicated abuse or neglect before they went to the academy.

In interviews, seven parents whose youngsters were among the children removed from the academy defended the school against its critics. They and academy staff members were irate that the state forced the sprawling 350-acre facility for at-risk youngsters to close.

"My kids are saying it's all a bunch of lies," said Kenneth Pancratz of Nashville, Tenn., whose three children were enrolled. "They want to go back."

Pancratz said he visited the facility once a month and has never seen instances of abuse.

Hanna, of Diboll, Texas, said her 9-year-old grandson came to the academy nearly three years ago as a troubled and rebellious boy who had been sexually and physically abused at the hands of a family friend. The academy's "tough love" methods worked wonders, she said.


The Beulah Mountain Christian Academy in Whitley City, Ky., is a private, religious boarding school operated by the Bible Missionary Church. The school had 30 students from 11 states and Canada when it was forced to close under an emergency court order issued Feb. 14.

The school, with a staff of 10, sits on 350 acres.

"Everyone has noticed a change in the better in him," Hanna said. "I attribute that to the loving, firm, consistent Christian ethics at the academy. They never left a bruise on him."

But Michelle Skiba, a Riverton, Wyo., mother of two boys who attended the academy until a few weeks before it was closed, said she concluded soon after they enrolled last August that the school's methods were detrimental.

"There was something going terribly wrong there," Skiba said.

She said her sons complained about being paddled and forced to run long distances for tardiness. "I felt that they weren't being treated correctly," she said.

Skiba said she was surprised it took the state so long to act.

Campbell, of Floyd County, said it was her tip that prompted the cabinet to launch a four-month investigation that resulted in the order closing the school. For reasons of confidentiality, the cabinet declined to confirm her claim.

Campbell said she removed her sons -- Jordan, 9, and Justin, 14 -- in September after the younger boy ended up in the hospital with bruises on his entire body.

Eyed Albaree, the Prestonsburg doctor who examined Jordan Campbell, could not be reached for comment.

Justin Campbell said he and his brother were never happier than the day their mother took them home. He said children were "treated worse than animals" and that abuse ranged from belt whippings for being late to class to kicks in the back for running slowly during morning fitness.

"I can't sleep at night just thinking about it," Justin said.

Jerald Burgess, a doctor at the Winchester, Patton and Burgess medical clinic in Whitley City, said he has treated academy students for 27 years and has never seen an instance of abuse.

"I don't know where this nonsense is coming from," Burgess said. "I've never seen a hint of bruises or any unexplained fractures. They take marvelous care of their kids."

But the state contends, in the papers filed in court, that the coeducational school violated its own guidelines and state regulations on paddling children; that children were kicked for sleeping at inappropriate times and their heads were banged together; and that staff members scolded children by calling them demeaning names, including "niggers" and "retarded."

In its request for the emergency order, the state said the academy needs a state license as a child-care facility and that its executive director, Blaine Shaw, is unqualified for the position because he doesn't have a college degree.

Academy officials denied the abuse allegations, and no staff members have been charged with crimes. Shaw acknowledged he doesn't have a degree but said his work in Christian education for 24 years makes him qualified to head the school.


The academy's students, ages 9 to 18, come from 11 states and Canada. Students must be recommended by one of the church's 230 pastors to enroll, and all costs are paid by the church.

Parents or guardians of students are required to sign a waiver that allows staff members to use corporal punishment. The waiver explains that the academy "will endeavor to train and direct your child in the way they should go. When proper and reasonable rules have been deliberately violated, there should be appropriate consequences."


Jeff Shaw, a former Marine who serves as supervisor of the boys' dorm and lives in an apartment connected to it, defended his "hands-on approach" of paddling children who disobey school rules.

"I'm not making excuses for my type of leadership," he said, displaying a tennis racket-sized paddle. "Not everyone might agree with it, but it works."

Shaw said whacks would always be followed by hugs to show children that the staff members love them.

In the academy's single classroom, the walls are posted with portraits of American presidents, a map of the Middle East and Christian tenets. The students worked from lesson books at desks separated into individual compartments.

Several current and former students said they think the abuse allegations are unfounded. The three 18-year-old male students who stayed at the academy after it was closed credit the staff's emphasis on discipline, hard work and faith for making them better citizens.

"There's no abuse going on," said one of them, Brandon Jowers of Hopesound, Fla., as he stood in the academy's small library. "The punishment they give here is not harsh."

Jowers said staff members prefer to give push-ups as punishment rather than paddling students.

Karen Norwood, the daughter of the on-site pastor and a former academy student, called the abuse allegations "ludicrous."

"I was there and saw what was going on," Norwood said. "The staff members loved the students so much."

Richard Hernandez, whose 15-yearold son was sent home to Pomona, Calif., after the academy was shut down, said he is still struggling to make sense of the situation.

"When (my son) first got home, he seemed brainwashed," Hernandez said. "It was eerie. But he's definitely positive towards the academy."

Copyright 2002 The Courier-Journal.

Courier-Journal, Louisville, Kentucky, 27 March 2002

Two charged with abuse of students at academy

Associated Press


BEULAH HEIGHTS, Ky. -- A grand jury has indicted two officials after accusations that students were abused at a religious academy for at-risk youth in Eastern Kentucky.

The Rev. Blaine Shaw and his son, Jeffrey Shaw, were indicted Monday on two counts each of firstdegree criminal abuse, a felony punishable by 10 years in prison.

Each was charged with one count of causing physical injury to two brothers under age 18 by kicking and hitting them last October. A third count charged that between April 2000 and October, the Shaws administered "cruel punishment" to five students at the Beulah Mountain Christian Academy in McCreary County.

Blaine Shaw, 61, is executive director of the academy; his son is assistant director. Beulah Mountain, which is funded primarily by the national Bible Missionary Church, is a private boarding school for rebellious, troubled young people.

There were 30 students, ages 9 to 18, at the academy last month when the state Cabinet for Families and Children obtained an emergency order to shut it down.

Social workers began investigating the academy after the mother of two students reported alleged abuse to state police, said Commonwealth's Attorney Allen Trimble. The indictments resulted from that investigation.

State officials said in a court motion filed last month that social workers found several cases of abuse and neglect at the academy. One case involved a 9-year-old boy who went to an emergency room with bruises on his shoulder, back, buttocks and upper leg from physical abuse, the cabinet said.


The Shaws' attorney, A.C. Donahue of Somerset, said he could not comment because he had not seen the indictments.

Copyright 2002 The Courier-Journal.

blob Follow-up: 19 October 2002: Two Officials At Private McCreary County School Are Acquitted

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