Religious school loses portion of civil case

Thursday, April 15, 2004

A Wayne County religious reform school should compensate a former student who claims a school employee shoved him against a sink, a federal jury in Cape Girardeau decided Wednesday.

However, Mountain Park Baptist Boarding Academy in Patterson, Mo., did not violate federal labor laws when it required Jordan Blair to do chores without pay, U.S. District Judge Charles Shaw ruled on Tuesday.

The jury awarded Blair $20,000 in damages, which will be appealed.

In his civil lawsuit prompting the trial that began Monday, Blair, now 19 and living in Alma, Ark., said he was falsely imprisoned while at the school in 2001. He also said the school's disciplining violated his civil rights and that Mountain Park denied outside communication, limited bathroom breaks and let students sleep as little as five hours a day.

John Oliver, a Cape Girardeau lawyer who represented Mountain Park, said he plans to file a motion to ask the judge to set aside the jury's verdict based on the "misconduct of the plaintiff's attorney."

Most of Blair's lawsuit had been thrown out before the trial began Monday. Oliver said that Blair filed a 242-paragraph petition containing 11 or 12 counts that Shaw ruled against.

Blair transferred from Mountain Park to a sister school, Palm Lane Academy in Florida, but ran away while on an errand with a school worker. Both schools rely on Christian fundamentalist teachings, strict discipline and corporal punishment to work with teenagers with behavioral problems.

Blair's attorney cast Mountain Park as a labor camp where teens are forced to work without pay. The judge called the work "for the educational benefit of the students and not the school."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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