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Missouri lawmakers take steps to regulate religious boarding schools

Missouri lawmakers take steps to regulate religious boarding schools

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JEFFERSON CITY — Legislation designed to prevent abuse and neglect in unlicensed religious boarding schools is heading to Gov. Mike Parson’s desk.

The Missouri House voted 147-1 Thursday to impose a series of regulations on the schools, some of which have moved to Missouri because of the lack of state oversight.

It passed the Senate earlier this week on a 23-9 vote.

“It is truly a bipartisan, broad bill,” said Rep. Rudy Veit, R-Wardsville, who sponsored the proposed law.

Rep. Michael Davis, R-Kansas City, cast the lone “no” vote in the House.

Following a Kansas City Star investigation of mistreatment of children in unlicensed faith-based schools, the measure still allows a licensing exemption for religious boarding schools and does not interfere with their curriculum or religious practice.

But it requires them to notify the state that they exist and sets some minimum health and safety requirements, including mandating background checks for employees.

The proposal requires adequate food, clothing and medical care for children and says parents must be allowed access to their children at any time without prior notice. It clarifies the process for investigating reported abuse and potentially shutting down bad actors.

The push to add some standards for schools that have traditionally been exempt from oversight comes after the owners of Circle of Hope Girls Ranch were charged with more than 100 felonies related to neglect and physical and sexual abuse.

The couple, Boyd and Stephanie Householder, had only recently closed their residential school despite past substantiated reports of child abuse that did not lead to criminal charges.

The push for some regulations has generated national attention, including from celebrity Paris Hilton, who tweeted her support for the changes on Monday.

“This bill will grant law enforcement and our government the tools it needs to hold accountable the monsters perpetrating physical and sexual abuse and neglect on kids at some of these institutions,” said Rep. Keri Ingle, D-Lee’s Summit, who helped write the legislation.

The proposal is House Bill 557.

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