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Weeks after five Midland Christian School officials were arrested, questions still loom

Midland Christian School
Mitch Borden
/
Marfa Public Radio
Midland Christian School has grown over the past 65 years from a school that served a handful of students to hundreds.

Editors Note: If you know or suspect that anyone under 18 is being sexually or physically abused, call the Texas child abuse hotline at 1-800-252-5400.

To learn more about how to identify signs of child abuse or neglect, click here.

On Valentine’s Day, Jared Lee, Superintendent of Midland Christian School stood in front of students to give a brief sermon.

He began by asking, “Have you ever heard the phrase stop and smell the roses?”

Lee was met by the drone of kids answering “yeah.” He then continued on with his lesson about how students should take the time to notice the world around them and pay attention to those in need.

“There are so many things we pass by every single day. Unfortunately, those things are in some ways what matter the most, especially when those things are connected to people.”

Concluding with a prayer, Lee said, “I just pray we can stop and notice the beauty you’ve made in our neighbors and when they need help I pray that we can stop and help them.”

Two days later, on Feb. 16, the news broke that Lee and four other top officials at Midland Christian were arrested for allegedly attempting to conceal the sexual assault of one of the school’s students.

According to court documents, leaders at Midland Christian had known for weeks that a baseball player was attacked at a practice and was sexually assaulted with a baseball bat by a teammate. Instead of contacting law enforcement, which is required by law, Superintendent Lee dispatched two football coaches to investigate.

That didn’t surprise Collin Bohne at all when he found out.

“First reaction, roll my eyes at it, and then go, ‘of course.” He believed, “They went into damage control mode.”

Bohne is familiar with how Midland Christian works. He attended school from elementary up until he graduated from high school. Later, Bohne returned to teach history for a few years until he left in 2021 to finish his master’s.

After the arrests of the five staff members as well as a juvenile connected to the assault, the school issued a statement that employees staff would cooperate with the police and baseball practice was put on hold as well. It didn’t take long for supporters of the school to defend the decades-old institution that has educated students from when they were in elementary school until they graduated high school.

But Bohne, as well as other alumni who spoke to Marfa Public Radio for this story, described Midland Christian as a family-run campus with an insular image-conscious culture where problems were often taken care of “behind closed doors.”

He said, “The appearance needed to be [that] we are a happy healthy community of Christians that generally are above reproach.”

While Bohne taught there, he said he was disturbed by the lack of attention administrators paid to student welfare. Specifically, Bohne claimed, staff were not trained on what to do if a student came forward about being abused.

“In all of our in-service and training,” he said, “It was never talked about what to do with suspected neglect or abuse.”

Texas requires employees at both public and privates schools to report suspected abuse or neglect to the proper authorities, but the state doesn’t require private schools to train their staff how to recognize or prevent abuse like it does at public schools.

According to Katrina Wiley, the education coordinator at the Midland Rape Crisis and Children’s Advocacy Center, if schools and other organizations aren’t prepared to respond to abuse or neglect that sets people up to fail.

“A lot of people don’t even realize they have mandated reporters,” she said, explaining that the general rule is “if you’re a professional and you deal with kids, you’re a mandated reporter.”

Across the board, individuals that work with kids and teenagers in any manner need more training, according to Wiley. Following the Midland Christian arrests, more organizations are reaching out to her to teach their staff how to identify, prevent and report child abuse. She’s hoping that trend will continue.

Wiley said, “I don’t care if I’m busy until whenever…I want to save a child and if I can save two or three then I’ve done my job.”

Reports of abuse in Midland have skyrocketed since Feb. 16 — and as a result, four leaders at another private school, Trinity School of Midland, were investigated and arrested for failing to disclose a sexual assault in 2019. Begging the question, what could prevent school leaders from reporting a sexual assault?

“They don’t believe the person that told them,” Denise Malm explained is the most likely reason.

She dealt with a number of child abuse cases while she managed a local children’s advocacy center for a few years. According to Malm, “They think ‘it can’t happen here. ‘This is our lovely, beautiful school, child care center, hospital,’ or whatever. ‘We’ve spent millions of dollars to make this place special.”

A 2013 study estimated that one in 10 kids in the U.S. are sexually abused. Last year alone in Midland, over 700 children and teenagers came forward to authorities to detail abuse or neglect.

“Abusing someone is a horrific crime…if you don’t report it you’re letting it happen which is just as horrific,” said Malm.

At Midland Christian, it seems like things are returning to normal. The baseball team is back on the field and an interim superintendent was named to run the school while Superintendent Lee’s case is being processed.

On March 16, one month after the arrests, Interim Superintendent Kelly Moore introduced himself to students by giving a sermon. He focused on loyalty and friendship.

He told students gathered, “You are part of the community of Midland Christian School. I don’t care what’s happening anywhere in the world. You are part of this family.”

Then he described his decades-long friendship with Superintendent Lee’s family.

“I have lifelong friends that are the leaders at this school who are having some challenges.” He continued, “So why am I here? Real simple, I’m here to help some friends. That’s all that I’m about. I’m not here to lead you. I’m not here to fix anything. I’m not here to change anything.”

Lee and the four other Midland Christian leaders that were arrested are still employed at the school, but according to a statement, a “fully informed decision about their futures” at the campus will be made once their cases are resolved.

Marfa Public Radio reached out to the school for comment and a spokesperson provided a written statement that said:

“Midland Christian School remains committed to the safety and well-being of our students, in addition to the support and implementation of resources for our faculty and staff.”

Officials refused to answer whether their staff has been properly trained to report suspected abuse or neglect.