A committee in the Iowa House has launched an investigation into the southeast Iowa boarding school that’s been shut down after allegations of abuse surfaced.
“After being contacted by several constituents within the state and conferring with both parties, we have come to a joint agreement that the Government Oversight Committee will be doing a thorough investigation of the Midwest Academy in Keokuk, Iowa,” Representative Ruth Ann Gaines, a Democrat from Des Moines, said late this morning.
Authorities raided the school’s facilities in Keokuk and Montrose in late January after a student told a staff member she had been sexually assaulted and that staff member reported the abuse to the state. Gaines said legislators have a responsibility to ensure every Iowa child gets a good education.
“One that’s appropriate and one that’s safe,” Gaines said.
Representative Bobby Kaufmann, a Republican from Wilton who is chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee, said some of the academy’s staff were not properly licensed or certified for the work they were doing at the school.
“You’ve got allegations of scores of abuses, some as significant as suicide attempts and sexual abuse as well as many other very concerning allegations,” Kaufmann said today. “I understand that the school is closed, but the questions remain. How was this allowed to operate in the dark? How was this not stopped earlier?”
The House Government Oversight Committee has the authority to issue subpoenas to try to force officials to testify in statehouse hearings, but Kaufmann and others acknowledge with a criminal investigation underway, it may not be possible to get some of the people who may have answers to talk in public. Kaufmann said his committee may ask officials from the Iowa Department of Human Services and the Department of Education to testify.
“My anticipation would be that invitations would go out as soon as tomorrow to whichever entities we decide, with the hope that within two weeks we would be able to have all of these folks in to try to figure out what happened,” Kaufmann said this morning, “how they were able to operate in the dark.”
The Midwest Academy opened 13 years ago as a boarding school for troubled youth with drug and behavior issues. It had about 90 students and 60 adults on staff when it was closed.
A few years ago, five former students were part of a national class action lawsuit against the owner of Midwest Academy and similar operations in other states. The students said discipline at Midwest Academy included forcing students to stay awake, withholding food and medicine and denying access to toilets and showers.
A federal judge called the operation a “gulag” but dismissed the lawsuit five years ago because his court didn’t have jurisdiction over the issues being raised.