Boarding school temporarily closed after alleged abuse

The Courier-Journal/February 15, 2002
By Alan Maimon

A judge temporarily shut down an unlicensed McCreary County boarding school yesterday after state social workers said children there were being physically and emotionally abused.

The 30 students at the Beulah Mountain Christian Academy in Whitley City, ranging in age from 9 to 18, were bused to a crisis-care center in Louisville yesterday evening.

The state claims the coeducational school for at-risk children violated its own guidelines and state regulations on paddling children. The school is also accused of banging children's heads together and kicking them for sleeping at inappropriate times.

The school's executive director, Blaine Shaw, denied the allegations. ''The whole thing is goofy,'' Shaw said in an interview last night. ''My crime is trying to keep kids off the street and get them to heaven.'

'State police converged on the school after McCreary County Circuit Court Judge Paul E. Braden gave the Kentucky Cabinet for Families and Children a restraining order against the academy.

The cabinet, in a written request filed with the court, alleged that six different cases of physical and emotional abuse occurred between last October and Jan. 22. One case sent a 9-year-old boy to Lake Cumberland Regional Medical Center, where he was treated for bruises on his shoulder, arm, back, buttocks and leg, according to the court document.

Capt. Paul Hays of the state police post in London declined to comment on yesterday's shutdown of the facility. But Michael Jennings, a cabinet spokesman, said no criminal charges have been filed against any of the academy's 12 employees.

Jennings said citing the facility for not having a license was the best and quickest way to remove children from a dangerous situation he said several parents had complained about.

''It was a situation we couldn't condone, license or no license,'' Jennings said. ''Our underlying concern was the abusive practices down there.''

Shaw said he had run the school since 1987 but didn't know until yesterday that he needed a license to operate it. He said workers at the 350 acre facility in the Daniel Boone National Forest often paddled disobedient children and banged heads together but said the punishments resulted only in ''a bruise or two.''

Shaw denied that staff members kicked students for sleeping at inappropriate times.

Ray M. Ball, superintendent of the McCreary County school district, said he was unaware of the academy's legal problems. He called the academy ''an asset to the community'' dating back to when it was known as the Beulah Mountain Children's Home in the 1960s.

Ball said many students now in public schools attended the academy for varying lengths of time before returning to their former schools with fewer behavior problems.

The state cabinet alleged in a 15 page complaint to the judge that the disciplinary measures caused severe emotional and physical trauma and violated the academy's guidelines for paddling that parents had agreed upon. Under a release form signed by the parents, corporal punishment was to be used ''when all other measures of correction have been used to no avail.''

The cabinet contended in the court document that the paddling was unreasonably severe and sometimes was administered by students, rather than staffers. Shaw, however, denied that the corporal punishment had been excessive and said the school had stopped the practice of allowing students to discipline each other.

The cabinet also claims that Shaw is unqualified to be executive director of the academy because he doesn't have a college degree.

Shaw acknowledged that he lacked a degree but said he is qualified because he has worked in Christian education for 24 years.

I'm probably not qualified to be a grandfather either, but I am one,'' Shaw said.

Jennings said the academy, which is affiliated with the Bible Missionary Church, was trying to ''portray itself as an educational institution'' but was neither a state-certified school nor a licensed treatment facility. '

'If they ask for certification as a school, they could get back in business that way,'' Jennings said. ''Or they could try to become licensed as a (child-care facility).''

Beulah Mountain Christian Academy is listed as a ''children's help ministry'' in the member directory of the McCreary County Chamber of Commerce Web site.

The restraining order against the school is in effect until a hearing is held on the cabinet's request for a permanent injunction. No hearing date has been set.

Shaw said he was too concerned with the well-being of the academy's children, many of whom he said wept as they boarded buses to Louisville, to consider his next move.

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