Missouri boarding school accused of abuse loses accreditation from two organizations | Law and order

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Agape Boarding School, which has been under scrutiny for nearly two years over abuse allegations, lists several organizations on its website that it says accredits the southwest Missouri school.

But now some of those groups say that is no longer the case.

Spencer Toder, a U.S. Senate candidate who has been pushing to close the school, said two organizations have revoked Agape’s accreditation and another group that recognized the accreditation has now removed it.

The Association of Christian Teachers & Schools notified Toder of its action Monday night.

“Agape Boarding School is no longer accredited with ACTS,” said Steve Lindquist, director of accreditation and member services, in an email to Toder.

Another organization, the National Council for Private School Accreditation — which had recognized the ACTS accreditation — has now removed Agape from its website. And Accreditation International said in a post this month on its Facebook page that it had withdrawn Agape’s accreditation “many years ago.”

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The actions come amid increasing pressure from Toder, a Democrat from St. Louis, and Robert Bucklin, who along with many other former Agape students has been calling for the school to be closed.

“And we have now had three of the organizations disown them,” Toder told The Star on Tuesday. “We’re calling them out, and we’re not going to stop until we have accountability and we shut Agape down.”

Toder, a Realtor and entrepreneur seeking the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, said the accreditation groups “are all intertwined.”

“It is very clear that they don’t actually underwrite these organizations,” he said. “They just allow people to do whatever the hell they want in the name of religion.”

Agape officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Prompted by stories of abuse at several unlicensed boarding schools in Missouri, the General Assembly passed a measure last year that for the first time gives the state oversight over these facilities. Authorities also launched an investigation into abuse allegations at Agape, and in September, five staffers were charged with assaulting students.

Rep. Keri Ingle, D-Lee’s Summit, was the first to call for a legislative hearing and co-sponsored the bill. She’s communicated with many former Agape students since late 2020.

“I’m happy to hear that Agape lost this accreditation,” Ingle said Tuesday morning. “Giving a ‘seal of approval’ to a facility under serious investigation for child abuse makes no sense.”

Agape also faces 19 civil lawsuits filed in the past 16 months by former students alleging physical and sexual abuse.

Bucklin, who attended Agape from 2007 to 2012 and filed a lawsuit against the school last August, said he was pleased at the news but frustrated that it’s taken so long.

“As a victim of child sexual and physical abuse in Missouri, it is disheartening to see the victims fighting harder than politicians,” said Bucklin, 28, of Michigan. “I have begged Gov. Mike Parson and (attorney general) Eric Schmitt’s office over a hundred times each to close (Agape) and prevent more victims.”

Toder said after being contacted by Bucklin and researching the lawsuits and felony abuse charges against Agape staffers, he contacted three of the organizations listed on Agape’s website as those that have accredited the school.

The Association of Christian Teachers & Schools is “a non-profit organization that strives to set new standards of Christ-centered academic excellence while assisting Christian schools to realize the highest level of educational credibility,” according to its website.

Toder emailed ACTS on June 19, saying that “in my communication with people across the state, I have become aware of a multitude of occasions of sexual abuse that have been verifiable accounted for at Agape Boarding School.”

“On their website, Agape Boarding School has touted ACTS accreditation. I would like to know if you have been made aware of this situation and if you have plans to pull their accreditation, given the multiple accounts of rape and abuse. There are pending cases against this school and there is no reason to doubt the survivors.”

Toder included a story from The Star about lawsuits filed against Agape that alleged abuse and a tweet from Bucklin that showed a video of a student allegedly being kicked by a staff member.

He followed up with an email on June 22 and another on June 27. In that one, he included a link to a recent segment on the Banfield show on NewsNation that featured interviews with Bucklin and the mother of a student who is suing the school, alleging her son was abused there.

Still receiving no response, Toder sent another email on Saturday.

Toder received a response Monday night saying ACTS no longer was accrediting Agape.

He also contacted the National Council for Private School Accreditation on June 19 with the same concerns. According to its website, the NCPSA “seeks to promote and support independent and autonomous accrediting associations serving private early childhood, elementary, and secondary schools that are committed to quality educational programs.”

Toder received a response on June 20.

“We have alerted the direct accreditor of the situation, as NCPSA does not directly accredit but only recognizes the accreditation,” it said. “The school will be suspended by NCPSA until further investigation is completed.”

The organization responded Tuesday morning to Toder and to a request for comment from The Star.

“Agape Boarding School in Missouri is no longer accredited by Ai (Accreditation International) or ACTS, and so is not recognized by NCPSA,” it said.

Toder also sent an email on June 20 to COGNIA, “a forward thinking nonprofit organization laser-focused on improving educational opportunities for all learners,” according to its website. As of Tuesday morning, Agape was listed in its registry as an accredited school with an enrollment of 148.

Agape’s website says that “we offer a fully accredited high school diploma and transcripts that can be transferred, through accreditation by COGNIA.”

On June 23, Toder emailed another person at COGNIA, asking “if you are aware of the consistent abuse that has been taking place at Agape Boarding School, which features your logo on their website.”

Toder followed up with an email on June 27, saying, “I’m awaiting response.” He included the link to the Banfield show.

Toder got a reply on July 6 saying, “Your emails have been shared with the appropriate person who will review the situation and your concerns regarding Agape Boarding School.”

Agape’s website also says that it is accredited through Accreditation International.

“As a direct result of this accredited status, students graduating while attending Agape Boarding School will receive a validated diploma and transcript,” it says. “Those not graduating can transfer credits to other schools.”

Accreditation International’s website says it “assures the educational quality of schools and plans for continuous school improvement to increase student learning.”

But a July 4 post on its Facebook page said the organization does not accredit Agape.

“Ai-Accreditation International does not accredit this school,” it said. “Ai withdraw accreditation many years ago.”

When someone replied that Agape claims on its website to be accredited by the organization, it responded that it has “continually required Agape to drop this listing, but obviously they have not.”

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