In a landmark legal decision that underscores the severity of institutional child abuse, attorneys for the victims announced a record $100 million settlement against the now permanently closed Miracle Meadows School in Salem, West Virginia. The settlement, finalized on Wednesday, follows years of litigation initiated in 2017 and is believed to be the largest of its kind in the state. The case involves hundreds of students who suffered extreme mental, sexual, and physical abuse at the Christian boarding school between 1987 and 2014. This settlement not only brings a measure of justice to the victims but also raises critical questions about oversight in educational institutions.
The Miracle Meadows School, a Christian boarding school in Salem, West Virginia, has been the subject of scrutiny and legal battles for years. The school, which operated from 1987 to 2014, purported to serve children ages 7 to 17 with behavioral or educational issues, including those with learning disabilities. However, the reality was far grimmer. Hundreds of students experienced extreme forms of mental, sexual, and physical abuse during their time at the school. These abuses included being handcuffed, chained, and shackled to beds, kept in small isolation rooms for months, and forced to sleep on concrete floors. Students were also deprived of medical care, starved, and malnourished, according to the report by WBOY 12 News.
“The abuses suffered by these children wouldn't be believed in a Stephen King novel,” said attorney Jesse Forbes in a statement announcing the settlement. The school was forced to shut down in August 2014 after a teacher, Timothy Arrington, was arrested for choking and handcuffing a student. School administrator Susan Gayle Clark was sentenced to six months in jail and five years of probation after pleading guilty to child neglect charges.
Local authorities faced challenges in their investigations, as some students recanted their accusations after being returned to their families. Additionally, some staff members, who were overseas natives, returned home before they could be questioned. Despite these obstacles, the Harrison County Sheriff's Department uncovered further instances of sex abuse and physical assault at the school.
The lawsuit was filed against Clark, the Columbia Union Conference Association of Seventh Day Adventists, Mountain View Conference Association of Seventh Day Adventists, and the North American Division of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. In response to the lawsuit, the named defendants denied all allegations.
The latest suit included allegations that some students became pregnant after being raped and were given abortions. Some children, ranging in age from 7 to 12, were infected with sexually transmitted diseases after being assaulted by staff members.
The civil case was initially filed in 2017 and was consolidated under a case that was settled in 2020 for $52 million. The case with the $100 million settlement wrapped up last week, according to a press release from the law firm representing the plaintiffs. There are also additional cases that are still pending.
The settlement amount now totals $100 million, marking what is believed to be the largest settlement of its kind in West Virginia. The suits settled last week were consolidated in a case filed in Kanawha County Circuit Court in October 2021 by a former student identified only as H.S.
The record $100 million settlement in the Miracle Meadows School abuse case serves as a watershed moment in the fight against institutional child abuse. While the settlement brings some closure to the victims, it also highlights the urgent need for oversight and reform in educational institutions that serve vulnerable populations.