20 November 2020 |
The now-closed independent Adventist boarding school Miracle Meadows has settled a $52 million lawsuit. The record settlement was announced on November 12 by Philadelphia attorneys Brian Kent and Guy D’Andrea of Laffey, Bucci & Kent, LLP.
The attorneys represented 29 victims, alleging years of sexual and physical abuse at the hands of staff at the school in Salem, West Virginia.
Compensation was sought for abuse which included students’ being chained to beds, sexually attacked, starved, and beaten.
“In the most egregious cases, children were duct-taped or handcuffed naked in a 5-by-8-foot room with no toilet except a coffee can, no toilet paper, no shower and no interaction with other students. Fed only bread and fruit at one meal and rice and beans at another, students were held in so-called “quarantine” for weeks, and at times months, on end,” said a press release from Laffey, Bucci & Kent.
“For too long, Miracle Meadows was able to thwart the judicial system, allowing the systematic abuse of hundreds of children to continue for decades,” said D’Andrea, lead attorney on the case. “This settlement represents justice for these victims and puts on notice any so-called school official who thinks they can get away with betraying the trust of the families and children in their care.”
The Laffey, Bucci & Kent statement said Miracle Meadows administrator, Susan Gayle Clark, was arrested as authorities stormed the school in August 2014, removed 19 children and closed the school.
She later pled guilty to child neglect, failure to report, and obstruction of justice and was sentenced to six months in jail, and then five years of reporting probation. Timothy Arrington, a teacher at the school, was arrested, “accused of choking and handcuffing several boys until they passed out.”
Commenting on the children, Kent said:
These were at-risk children, many with serious mental health issues often as a result of abuse or neglect in their childhood, being sent away hundreds of miles from home,” Kent said. “Their families hoped a stern, Bible-based boarding school would turn their lives around. Complaints were expected and made; however, Miracle Meadows monitored phone calls and mail to control complaints and successfully covered up the abuse by convincing others the children were lying. This enabled unfettered and horrific child abuse for decades. This lawsuit and settlement is vindication for these kids.
On February 9, 2017, the Adventist denomination’s local conference in West Virginia issued a statement addressing the Miracle Meadows School that was closed by authorities in 2014.
The denomination’s Mountain View Conference stated, “We are troubled by the allegations made against Miracle Meadows School as we would be any time we hear of allegations where young people may have been harmed or abused.” The statement clarified that the school “is independent of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, [which] did not operate, own, finance, or control Miracle Meadows School [and] we also were not aware of any abuse by Miracle Meadows School or its personnel prior to the 2014 police investigation reported in the media that ultimately shut the school down.”
The statement also noted that the conference had been named as a defendant in the lawsuit. A new report about the settlement in the Charleston Gazette is entitled “Former Miracle Meadows students reach $52M settlements with former Christian school, church officials,” although identification of denominational entities does not appear in published accounts about the case.
Because the Adventist denomination operates the largest Protestant educational system in the world, more than 7,800 educational institutions in more than 100 countries, preschool through university, it is often assumed that all Adventist schools are part of that system under the supervision and control of the denomination’s Education Department. Miracle Meadows was one of many independent schools operated by Adventists who are not denominational employees, essentially private businesses even if incorporated as nonprofit organizations. Though Miracle Meadows was not an official denominational school, denominational officials served on Miracle Meadows’ board, and the school was written about approvingly in denominational publications.
“The Mountain View Conference currently operates six accredited schools serving Pre-K through 12th grade,” the conference statement said. “Our schools are owned by the church, are operated by the church, are financed by the church, and fall under the control of our Mountain View Conference Board of Education. Our schools and institutions follow policies and procedures designed to protect children and abuse of any kind is not tolerated.”