Hannibal, Mo. -- A judge began hearing testimony Wednesday about whether a federal court's approval is necessary before authorities can remove children from a school where some employees face child-abuse charges.
On Oct. 30, state officials removed 115 students from Heartland Christian Academy, a boarding school in rural northeast Missouri. They cited concern for the safety of the children following a series of child abuse allegations. Heartland officials say they have a policy of strict discipline that includes spankings, but deny that any children have been abused.
Following the raid, U.S. District Judge E. Richard Webber granted a request by the school to temporarily forbid the removal of children from Heartland. The judge said he was not second-guessing the removal, but wanted to avoid "irreparable injury that will most certainly occur'' if the children are removed again.
Heartland, which opened in 1995, combines Christian-based education, work therapy and strict discipline to try to help troubled youths. The youngsters live on the Heartland campus; another 125 or so students are from the area or are relatives of Heartland staffers.
Many students have returned to Heartland since they were removed.
In June, five Heartland workers were accused of forcing misbehaving youngsters into concrete-lined manure pits as a form of punishment. In August, four Heartland workers were accused of excessive paddling of a 16-year-old student. Two of the workers had been charged in the manure pit case.
A Heartland staff member was also accused of striking an unruly 13-year-old boy in the ear, causing the eardrum to burst.