Nearly 340 current and former students made complaints to a Kansas military school, claiming they were beaten, hazed, harassed or abused during the past five years, including 21 who say they were branded, according to a court document.
The numbers surfaced in a federal lawsuit brought by 11 former cadets and their families against St. John’s Military School. The latest filing in the case makes public for the first time the extent of abuse that the plaintiffs claim is part of the culture at the Salina boarding school.
But the school says the number reflects its concern for student safety and welfare because it investigates and corrects every such instance, including the most minor, and keeps records of them. St. John’s president Andy England said in an email that the school averages fewer than six incidents a month even though students are in close contact 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The school has been sued by former cadets from California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Tennessee and Texas. They claim its quasi-military program, which gives higher-ranking cadets the power to discipline other students, encourages physical and mental abuse. They also say the school intentionally fails to supervise its students, allowing the abuse to continue.
The school reported receiving 339 verbal and written complaints from students over the past five years, according to last week’s court filing. A more specific list of complaints was filed under seal. The public filing does not detail how many, if any, of those complaints were turned over to police or other authorities.
One former student, Michael Kelly, who attended St. John’s from October 2009 until November 2010, testified in a deposition about being beaten and branded.
Court documents show that the school has identified 20 cadets, not including Kelly, who were branded while they were students there, and a former St. John’s employee, John Koop, testified in his deposition that he was aware of students being held down and branded against their will.
England said in the email that branding became “a badge of honor” for some students, while others used it as a way of getting themselves withdrawn from the school.
“As far as the allegations of branding are concerned, following thorough investigation by the school, nearly all of the alleged incidents were determined to be self-inflicted,” he said. “Proper corrective action was taken in each case.”