SALEM, W.Va. — The founder and executive director of the Harrison County Christian boarding school that is at the center of an investigation focused on allegations of possible abuse could face contempt of court and obstruction charges.
Joe Shaffer, the prosecuting attorney in Harrison County, said Gayle Clark violated a court order by having eight students — who had been removed from Miracle Meadows School in Salem by court order last week — at her own Ritchie County home.
In all, 19 students from Miracle Meadows were placed into the emergency custody of the state Department of Health and Human Resources.
“The judge’s prior court order granted physical custody of the children back to the parents, but legal custody temporarily remained vested in the DHHR. Ms. Clark was fully aware of that. She was given a copy of the court’s order. All of the parents were given a copy of the court’s order and fully informed of the allegation,” Shaffer said Wednesday.
“I’m not certain as to what’s in their minds (the parents of the eight students), but all I know right now is that they had been returned there (to Clark) and they were not supposed to be.”
A large-scale investigation was launched at Miracle Meadows after a school employee, Timothy Aaron Arrington, 36, of Salem, was arrested last week and charged with child abuse for allegedly choking one of the students to the point of unconsciousness in June.
The criminal complaint against Arrington alleged the child woke up handcuffed in his room and indicated Arrington may have handcuffed other students at other times.
Earlier this week, the board for Miracle Meadows School, which is affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventists, voted to file a lawsuit against the DHHR. The claim is that the investigation is being handled improperly for a facility that is classified as a parochial alternative school.
“This requires speaking only to students listed in the initial allegation and forbids wholesale removal of all students and access and confiscation of school records,” school officials said in a statement.
“The students of Miracle Meadows School come from all over the United States and are enrolled by parents-guardians who pay tuition, have ongoing contact with their children, and visit the campus on a regular scheduled basis and keep abreast of the progress and safety of their children,” the school statement said.
Shaffer said the safety of the students is his main concern as well. “What’s driving me in this is the protection of these children and the lack of perception on the side of the people who are running this school that these children are in imminent danger of harm,” he said.
Though he would not provide details about the ongoing investigation at Miracle Meadows, he said a basic question about what is discipline versus what crosses the line, in terms of state law, was at the heart of it.
“I understand that parents are generally free to discipline their children and probably free to hand their child over to somebody who they feel is going to discipline them according to their standards,” Shaffer said on Wednesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
“However, when it crosses the line of state law, that’s when we have to step in.”
The state Department of Education has revoked the exemption certificate issued to Mountain Meadows — citing the ongoing investigation. That means the school is no longer considered an academic facility.
With that exemption, the school’s only requirement from the state had been to file test scores once a year. There were no other educational oversights.