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Missouri AG to investigate Christian boarding schools

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Missouri AG to investigate Christian boarding schools


ST. LOUIS (AP) — Advocates for victims of abuse at Missouri boarding schools on Monday urged the state’s attorney general to launch an investigation, work with local prosecutors and take other steps aimed at stemming the tide of abuse.

Three Christian boarding schools in southern Missouri have shut down since 2020 amid wide-ranging abuse allegations levied by current and former students. Several people affiliated with those schools are facing criminal charges. Advocates who worry that more abuse is going unpunished gathered Monday outside Republican Attorney General Andrew Bailey’s St. Louis office to demand action.

“This is a structural problem,” said David Clohessy, a longtime advocate for abused children and former leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “These are facilities that are remote, independent, private, sometimes for-profit, largely under the radar with little or no scrutiny, state oversight, monitoring or supervision. It’s a recipe for disaster.”

A spokeswoman for Bailey said in an email that the attorney general’s office does not have jurisdiction to prosecute criminal cases, except when appointed as special prosecutor by the governor or a court.

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“As a former prosecutor, Attorney General Bailey takes crime very seriously,” spokeswoman Madeline Sieren said, adding that Bailey “has taken substantive action to combat human trafficking where the law allows.”

Amanda Householder, now 33, is among the former students who claimed she was abused. Her story was different than most, though: Her parents, Boyd and Stephanie Householder, owned Circle of Hope Girls Ranch in remote southern Missouri until it closed in 2020 after investigators removed about two dozen girls.

Boyd and Stephanie Householder are scheduled to go to trial in November on a combined 100 charges accusing them of abusing girls at Circle of Hope. Boyd Householder, 74, was charged with 22 counts of having sexual contact, including sexual intercourse, with one girl who was younger than 17 at the time.

Sieren said the Attorney General’s office is handling prosecution of the Householders — proof that Bailey and the office are taking the issue seriously, she said. Three prosecutors are working on the case, she said.

Also, 16 former residents said the Householders frequently restrained them with handcuffs, whipped them with belts, taped their mouths shut and struck or punched them for minor offenses such as singing.

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Messages were left with attorneys for the Householders. Phones listed as those of the couple have been disconnected.

Amanda Householder sued her parents, accusing them of beating her and forcing her to impose harsh punishments on other girls at Circle of Hope. She announced Monday that the lawsuit was settled but declined to discuss details.

Amanda Householder said she is forming a new nonprofit aimed at helping those victimized at boarding and reform schools.

“We have to be the voices for kids that are going through what we went through years ago,” Householder said.

Other Missouri facilities operating as Christian boarding schools also have come under intense scrutiny in recent years.

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Agape Boarding School in Stockton closed in 2023 after abuse allegations. In 2021, Agape’s longtime doctor was charged with child sex crimes and five employees were charged with low-level abuse counts.

In March, ABM Ministries’ Lighthouse Christian Academy in Piedmont shut down after kidnapping charges were filed against the husband-and-wife owners, who were accused of locking a student in a room. A teacher also was charged with abuse for allegedly injuring a 15-year-old boy while boxing.

For decades, Missouri had among the most lax boarding school regulations of any state in the nation. A 1982 state law gave religious boarding schools free rein and the state no way to monitor how kids were educated. Even the state Health Department had no oversight, including for schools that claimed to address mental health, behavioral and addiction issues.

A new law was adopted in 2021 after extensive reporting from The Kansas City Star found that several faith-based boarding schools, including Agape, relocated to Missouri after being investigated or shut down for abuse or neglect elsewhere.

The new law sets minimum health and safety requirements for boarding schools, which still don’t have to be licensed. It mandates background checks for employees; requires adequate food, clothing and medical care for students; and says parents must be allowed access to their children at any time without prior notice.

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Several students have run away from southern Missouri boarding schools in recent years, often claiming abuse. Two 15-year-olds went missing Saturday at a boarding school near Ava but were found safe Monday at a nearby cabin. Messages were left with the sheriff. A school official said it isn’t yet clear what prompted the boys to leave.



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Missouri

Missouri lawmakers chose anti-abortion antics over helping children and families • Missouri Independent

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Missouri lawmakers chose anti-abortion antics over helping children and families • Missouri Independent


Missouri’s legislative session closed with a sad and stunning display of how little the loudest lawmakers identifying as “pro-life” care about helping children and families — or governing at all.

Even in a session that was historic for its dysfunction and rancor, there were a handful of bipartisan bills that would have made life somewhat better for Missouri families that should have made it to the governor’s desk. 

Instead, “Freedom Caucus” Republicans denied us those modest improvements in order to show off their anti-abortion, anti-democracy, pro-MAGA cred.   

Republican legislators expect voters to overturn Missouri’s criminal abortion ban if given a fair chance to vote on a reproductive freedom proposal in November. So they made thwarting the will of the people their number one priority this legislative session.

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Weeks of session were lost to their effort to gut the initiative petition process, ultimately fizzling out over the Freedom Caucus’ insistence that it include “ballot candy” aimed at tricking Missourians into voting against their own interests.

The gridlock caused by a handful of obstructionists killed the final week of the session — and along with it important policies that enjoy the support of a majority of legislators and citizens. 

It’s especially problematic that the ploy to further enshrine minority rule was undertaken in the name of “protecting life” while tanking bills protecting children and pregnant women.

Missouri is emphatically not a pro-child, pro-mother or pro-family state to begin with. The legislature regularly refuses to accept federal funds to help struggling Missourians. 

It took a ballot initiative and litigation to finally expand Medicaid. When our legislature managed to accept federal funds so postpartum women could have a year of Medicaid coverage, it was celebrated as a rare bipartisan win. But that took a year longer than it should have thanks to hardliners fighting it on the theory that a woman who had an abortion might get coverage. The delay likely resulted in additional preventable postpartum deaths.

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Missouri has a maternal mortality rate that is more than double that of the nation’s already unacceptable one.  Close to half of Missouri counties have no maternity care and another 21% have as few as one OB/GYN. Missouri’s OB/GYN shortage is being exacerbated by the abortion ban.

Missouri’s infant mortality rate is higher than that national average and our preterm birth rate earned us a D- from the March of Dimes

Missouri has a syphilis crisis that is causing women to give birth to stillborn babies, yet Republicans prioritized passing a (likely unconstitutional) bill that prohibits low-income individuals on Medicaid from using their health insurance to receive testing or care at Planned Parenthood, despite the lack of other providers in the state.   

Missouri has been kicking eligible kids off Medicaid in large numbers thanks to poor management of the eligibility review process.  A federal judge ruled that Missouri is illegally denying food insecure Missourians SNAP benefits. Missouri’s understaffed foster care system separates children from their parents at twice the national rate and then loses track of them

I could go on.

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There are Missourians working very hard to address problems for kids and families. Some of them are Republican legislators. But their work this session was thrown away by a minority of their colleagues.  

Take the child care bill. Half of Missouri children under 5 live in child care deserts. This has devastating impacts on parents’ ability to work to provide for their children and on Missouri’s economy.  The bill would have used tax credits to make child care more available and affordable. It had bipartisan support and was a top priority that Gov. Parson touted in consecutive State of the State speeches. 

But Freedom Caucus members and their sympathizers decried it as welfare. Sen. Mike Moon implied that mothers ought to stay home with their children like his wife did.  Of course, Freedom Caucasers are fine with Missouri’s astronomical tax credits for donors to anti-abortion “pregnancy resource centers.” In their view, tax credits should go to misleading and pressuring women to continue pregnancies, but not to caring for their children once born.

Moon was the only senator to vote against a bipartisan bill that would have banned child marriage (he famously endorsed 12-year-old marriage last session). The bill, intended to end forced marriages, ultimately died as time ran out in the House after being stalled by a few Republicans who argued it was an intrusion on parental rights that could lead to pregnant minors ending their pregnancies rather than getting married.

A bill with no apparent opposition would have barred the state from taking benefits owed to orphaned and disabled foster care children to pay for their care.

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Another bipartisan bill lost to a combination of Republican infighting and anti-abortion extremism would have enacted health protections for women and babies.  

It would have added additional prenatal testing for treatable conditions that are harmful or fatal to babies, like syphilis and HIV. It would have improved regulations related to mammograms, STI treatment, and access to rape kits. It would have helped Missouri women (375,000 of whom live in contraception deserts) to avoid unintended pregnancy by requiring their private insurance to cover dispensing of a year’s worth of contraception at once, as 26 other states do.  

The bill was held up by House Republicans confused about the difference between birth control and abortifacients before it made it to the Senate, where it died amidst the Freedom Caucus chaos.  

It is well documented that anti-abortion states have worse outcomes for women and children. Abortion restrictions correlate with a lack of policies aimed at protecting their health and well-being. That might seem like a hypocrisy problem, until you recognize that the most powerful abortion opponents are ideologically opposed to public support of women, children, and families.  

What it is, is a democracy problem. If you have a minority viewpoint, the only way to impose it is through antidemocratic means. That is as true of blocking child care as it is of outlawing abortion.

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[Disclosure: I support the reproductive rights initiative petition and volunteered collecting signatures for the campaign.]



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A Missouri fifth grader raised enough money to pay off his entire school’s meal debt

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A Missouri fifth grader raised enough money to pay off his entire school’s meal debt


(CNN) — Kids can now eat without breaking the piggy bank – at least, at Thomas Ultican Elementary School – thanks to fifth grader Daken Kramer.

Daken paid off the entire meal debt and then some, for his elementary school in Blue Springs, Missouri, after turning in a check for more than $7,300. Daken’s original goal was $3,500, which was just over the total of the school’s debt, according to Daken’s mother, Vanessa Kramer. The remaining amount was given to Blue Springs High School, another school in the district.

“Children in elementary school should not have debt tied to their name. We have found out that there are high schools that keep seniors from attending prom or walking at graduation if they have stuff like student lunch debt,” Kramer said. “Some families can’t help it. They can’t pay it off.”

In a video shared to his mom’s Facebook, Daken had challenged “friends, family and local businesses to donate what they can to this cause.”

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Upon Daken’s request, Kramer reached out to Blue Springs School District to get information about the school’s meal debt. Soon, the fundraiser was spreading to states like Texas, Florida and New Jersey. Within a matter of two weeks, Daken’s fundraiser more than doubled his goal.

As of Daken’s fifth grade graduation on Tuesday, the Daken Kramer Legacy Award will now be an annual honor for fifth graders striving to make their own mark.

“Your selfless actions will impact dozens of students throughout the district,” Kristi Haley, Daken’s teacher, said as she announced the award in his name. “It’s not the amount of money you raised, although that was absolutely incredible. It’s your heart, your drive, your determination and your grit to help others that inspires us.”

Daken said the award took him aback.

“It was definitely a surprise. I had no idea that they were going to do that,” he said. “And I definitely started to feel a lot of emotions.”

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A lunch for an elementary schooler in the Blue Springs School District is $2.55 – with the reduced price being 40 cents for students in need, according to the district.

About 29% of the roughly 15,000 students enrolled in the Blue Springs School District are eligible for a free or reduced lunch, district spokesperson Katie Woolf told CNN Thursday.

While Daken’s fundraiser cleared his school’s meal debt, the Blue Springs School District meal debt totals to more than $235,000, according to Woolf. The district includes 20 schools at varying levels.

The School Nutrition Association reported among the school districts represented by their members – about one-fifth of US school districts nationwide – meal debt ranged from $10 to approximately $1 million, according to the school nutrition directors who are members of their organization and who responded to the association’s 2024 survey. The association collected this data as a part of their lobbying effort to try to get more funding for school meal programs.

In November 2023, the median reported district meal debt was about $5,495 among districts represented by members who responded to the survey, which was up from about $5,164 in the survey a year prior, according to the association.

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Hoping to bring wider attention to the issue of school meal debt, Kramer says she and Daken are now working with a Missouri state representative to see if they can take their efforts to the next level.

Seeing the droves of people who reached out with support showed Kramer how one person can make a difference, she said.

“Even though this is something that kids don’t need to worry about and don’t have any responsibility (for), I’m very, very proud as his mom that he is mature enough to see that there is an issue and if the people who have the power to make a change won’t change anything, then he will step up and make a change,” she said.

Daken, whose favorite school lunch is an orange chicken and rice bowl, says kids don’t have to do extraordinary things to be the next recipient of the Daken Kramer Legacy Award.

“They don’t really need to do anything big to get the award,” Daken said. “It’s only if they really care about it and they are really, really compassionate about helping the school.”

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Missouri fifth grader raises $7,300 to pay off his entire school’s meal debt

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Missouri fifth grader raises $7,300 to pay off his entire school’s meal debt


A Missouri fifth grader was honored for his compassion after he collected funds to help his underprivileged peers pay off their lunch dues.

Daken Kramer raised more than $7,300 for Thomas Ultican Elementary in Blue Springs, surpassing his original goal of $3,500, which was just over the total of the school’s debt.

The fifth grader announced his lofty aspirations in an April 12 video posted to his mother’s Facebook. 

‘This is my last year of elementary school,’ Daken said. ‘While I can never repay this school for all of the hard work that has gone into my education and well-being, I would like to do something to show my gratitude.’

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He challenged friends, families and local businesses to donate to a PayPal link or give cash as part of a fundraiser called Daken Feeds TUE. 

Missouri fifth grader Daken Kramer raised more than $7,300 to pay off his elementary school’s lunch debt

Roughly 29 percent of students in the Blue Springs School District are eligible for a free breakfast or reduced lunch

Roughly 29 percent of students in the Blue Springs School District are eligible for a free breakfast or reduced lunch

Daken explained that Thomas Ultican is a Title I school, meaning a large number of students hail from low-income families.

‘A lot of kids at school already benefit from reduced lunches, and some are not able to pay their lunch debt,’ he said. ‘Please consider helping these families relieve one stress from their lives.’

According to a district website, breakfast for an elementary student costs $1.85, while lunch is $2.55. For students under the reduced-price program, however, breakfast is free and lunch costs 40 cents.

Roughly 29 percent of the district’s 15,000 students are eligible for a free breakfast or reduced lunch, according to a district spokesperson.

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‘Daken wanted to do something special as a thank you to his school, and has VERY high hopes for this project. I’m so proud of him for wanting to help others,’ Daken’s mother Vanessa Kramer captioned the video.

‘I know the goal amount is a lot, but there are a lot of families who are unable to pay off their debt.’

Daken's mother, Vanessa Kramer, shared his campaign video to Facebook last month

Daken’s mother, Vanessa Kramer, shared his campaign video to Facebook last month

The duo managed to raise over $7,200 on PayPal, plus more in cash donations

The duo managed to raise over $7,200 on PayPal, plus more in cash donations

Thomas Ultican is a Title I school, meaning a large number of students hail from low-income families and benefit from reduced-price meals

Thomas Ultican is a Title I school, meaning a large number of students hail from low-income families and benefit from reduced-price meals

Daken’s good intentions caught the attention of those in his community and beyond. The campaign spread to states like neighboring Arkansas and those as far as Florida and New Jersey.

In messages accompanying their PayPal donations, some people expressed how they connected personally with his mission.

‘Thanks for doing this kid,’ one man wrote. ‘I know what it’s like to sit in class with an empty stomach.’

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Within a matter of two weeks, Daken’s fundraiser more than doubled its goal, and Kramer announced on May 11 that the mother-son duo had raised $7,470.

Over $7,200 had been collected through PayPal before the campaign ended, while Daken would continue to receive cash donations until his graduation on May 21.

‘We’ve seen donations come from people without kids, from homeschool or private school families, and A LOT of donations from other states,’ Kramer wrote.

‘This has been an eye-opening situation for a lot of people and I hope it makes people in power talk about universal school lunches.’

Daken managed to pay off his school’s debt, and the remaining amount was distributed to Blue Springs High School, another school in the district.

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Daken managed to pay off his school's debt, and the remaining funds were given to Blue Springs High School

Daken managed to pay off his school’s debt, and the remaining funds were given to Blue Springs High School

His fifth-grade teacher Kristi Haley presented him with the Daken Kramer Legacy Award at his graduation on May 21

His fifth-grade teacher Kristi Haley presented him with the Daken Kramer Legacy Award at his graduation on May 21

Daken thanked school staff, administrators and Haley for being 'an amazing role model'

He was then bestowed with the award, kicking off a new annual tradition

Daken thanked school staff, administrators and Haley for being ‘an amazing role model’. He was then bestowed with the award, kicking off a new annual tradition

Daken explained that he wanted to do a good deed to express his gratitude 'for all of the hard work that has gone into my education and well-being'

Daken explained that he wanted to do a good deed to express his gratitude ‘for all of the hard work that has gone into my education and well-being’

At his graduation last week, the fifth grader was bestowed with the Daken Kramer Legacy Award, kicking off a new annual tradition. 

‘It was definitely a surprise. I had no idea that they were going to do that,’ Daken told CNN. ‘And I definitely started to feel a lot of emotions.’ 

The honor came as he stood on stage alongside an enormous check, thanking school staff, administrators and his fifth-grade teacher Kristi Haley for being ‘an amazing role model’.

Haley praised Daken’s ‘heart,’ ‘drive’ and ‘determination’ before making the surprise announcement that there would be an award in his honor.

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‘We are so proud of you for choosing to leave such an amazing legacy as you leave TUE,’ Haley said. ‘Needless to say, your selfless actions will impact dozens of students in our district.’

The pair embraced as she presented Daken with the eponymous award.

‘This will be an experience that stays with him his whole life,’ Kramer wrote on Facebook. ‘This has sparked something in Daken that makes him want to continue to change the world for the better.’

While Daken’s fundraiser took care of his school’s dues, the meal debt across 20 schools in the district amounts to more than $235,000.

Kramer told CNN that the mother-son duo are now working with a Missouri state representative to see if they can amplify their good deed.

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‘I hope this fundraiser opened some eyes and raised awareness to a very serious problem in our country,’ Kramer wrote on social media.

‘It’s a nationwide issue, not just in Missouri. I hope this is a first step in making a change. I know government officials should be the ones making a difference. But I’m teaching my boys to be the change you want to see in the world.’



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