JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri House on Monday unanimously approved legislation aimed at reining in faith-based boarding schools, which for decades have been able to operate here without state oversight.
The proposal would require such schools to tell the Department of Social Services they exist, comply with basic safety requirements and conduct background checks for all staff members. It would give the department and courts more power to investigate child abuse in faith-based boarding schools.
Its passage follows a series of articles by the Kansas City Star, which detailed abuse claims and Christian boarding schools’ proliferation in Missouri; the newspaper identified seven schools that had migrated to Missouri amid scrutiny over abuse and neglect in other states.
“The importance of this bill cannot be overstated,” said Rep. Keri Ingle, D-Lee’s Summit, one of the sponsors of the legislation. “There are children as we speak that are subject to abuse and neglect in the state of Missouri.
“It’s so important that we pass this bill and get it to the governor’s desk as soon as possible,” she said.
Rep. Rudy Veit, R-Wardsville, the other sponsor, urged his colleagues to back a provision that would allow the bill to take effect immediately if Gov. Mike Parson signs it, rather than in late August when most bills take effect.
“It’s important that we start to act now so we can get notifications and identify all the homes,” Veit said.
Earlier this month, a couple accused of abusing girls at their Circle of Hope Girls’ Ranch in Cedar County was charged with more than 100 felonies, Attorney General Eric Schmitt announced.
His office is also investigating similar allegations at the Agape Boarding School, also in Cedar County.
The measure now moves to the Missouri Senate for consideration.
The legislation is House Bill 557.
Maria Benevento of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.