WICHITA, Kan. — More allegations of abuses at a Kansas military boarding school have surfaced amid widening media coverage of a federal lawsuit filed by parents of former cadets, prompting St. John's Military School to issue a lengthy public statement seeking to repudiate those claims.
A motion filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Kansas seeks the court's permission to add four more plaintiffs to the case against the Salina school. In addition, the students' families also want to amend their lawsuit to add the school's president as a defendant. Their proposed amended complaint also now includes a claim for alleged destruction of evidence after the lawsuit was filed.
Among those seeking to join the lawsuit is a Colorado boy who in April was allegedly held down by two students in the restroom while another branded his arm. An exhibit attached to the complaint shows the scar from the branding.
Another former cadet seeking to join the lawsuit is a Texas boy who claims he was forced to do pushups naked in the showers while adults watched. The complaint also includes a photo of his bloodied face after an alleged beating he got because his room was not clean.
A California boy claims he was swatted multiple times with a saber while taking a shower, and a Texas teen contends he was injured after strenuous physical training that would last for up to six hours a day.
If the court allows the amended complaint, then there would be 11 former cadets who have joined the litigation. The plaintiffs – who also hail from Florida, Tennessee and Illinois – allege in a lawsuit filed in March that St. John's allowed higher-ranking students, called "Disciplinarians," to abuse younger ones, even in the presence of faculty members.
The school has settled nine previous abuse lawsuits filed since 2006. This case is scheduled to go to trial in October 2013.
In its most detailed public response yet, St. John's issued a three-page statement Wednesday denying the abuses.
"It was St. John's preference to vigorously defend itself against these and other false allegations solely in court," the school said. "Unfortunately, plaintiffs have insisted on grossly exaggerating and fabricating this matter sensationally in an attempt to disparage St. John's and apply public pressure through their lies. St. John's will stand idle no more."
St. John's – which charges nearly $30,000 per year for students grades 6-12 – said in its public statement that many of the cadets who filed suit were dismissed or withdrew from the school in lieu of dismissal for failing to follow the rules. It said parents often look to blame the school for their sons' unwillingness to take advantage of the opportunities at the school.
The school said that the Colorado boy who claims he was branded arrived by security transport to St. John's. Security video and witnesses do not corroborate his story, the school said, and his tuition was not refunded.
As for the Texas boy whose bloodied face was included as an exhibit, the school said he came to St. John's after having been suspended from three previous schools. While at St. John's, he was disciplined for instigating fights with other cadets, barricading himself in his barracks and putting his fist through a window, the school said. His tuition also was not refunded.
The California boy was moved out of the grade school barracks because of repeated reports that he was bullying and intimidating other students. The Texas boy who was injured received medical care, the school said, and was disciplined for multiple drug violations. Neither of them had their tuition refunded either, the school said.
St. John's also said that it has preserved all evidence related to the lawsuit. The school said it is confident that when those items are shared in court, the school will be cleared of any wrongdoing. The school also contended that federal statutes prevent administrators from being named in civil lawsuits, and anticipates its president will be dismissed from the litigation.
The school also said there is no evidence any staff member condoned any violent actions and relies on students to report violations of hazing policy. It said the school has a security camera system to ensure monitoring of cadets.