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Dozens of lawsuits have just been filed against Miracle Meadows School, a Seventh-day Adventist-run alternative school in Salem, West Virginia that has become synonymous with abuse and neglect. It comes after a previous group of students sued the school for similar reasons and came away with a hefty settlement.

Miracle Meadows first made headlines for all the wrong reasons back in 2014. The year-round school encouraged parents to send kids there if they were dishonest, defiant, or experiencing “spiritual disinterest.” And many parents did, in part because the staff members were said to have a “divine commission to live as examples of God’s high calling, inspiring the students to follow their lead in responsible Christian living.”

It all came crashing down that year when the public learned that the school’s leader, Susan Gayle Clark, surrendered on charges of child neglect resulting in injury on top of three other misdemeanors. The school’s custodian was also charged with child abuse.

Their crimes are horrific but still worth explaining in detail: In one instance, the custodian tightly handcuffed a 14-year-old student over suspicions of “sexual misconduct.” The child was kept overnight in a “quarantine room,” and his wrists were bloody the next day. Clark knew about incidents like this but did nothing to prevent the abuse.

There were many instances just like that and the school was soon shut down.

In 2020, after a total of 29 former students made similar physical and sexual abuse allegations against Clark and the school, the two sides reached a $52 million settlement. Clark “pleaded guilty to child neglect, failure to report and obstruction of justice, and received a six-month jail sentence along with five years of probation.” As important as the monetary amount was, it was still disturbing that the woman at the center of everything received a prison sentence that basically amounted to a slap on the wrist.

But it looks like the case is far from over.

According to the West Virginia Record, an additional 31 lawsuits have just been filed against Clark and the school. The plaintiffs are all former students who were not involved in the previous settlement but say they were also abused. While their complaints are not public yet, the allegations range from “education malpractice” to malnutrition and sexual abuse. They also say the school destroyed documents, and installed windows in the quarantine rooms after they knew they were being investigated, suggesting a cover-up.

It’s truly disturbing to hear what these plaintiffs say they went through in those isolation chambers:

The complaints refer to students being placed in so-called quarantine rooms, which are described as “small, windowless rooms without plumbing, heating or cooling, and the only light switch is located on the outside of the room and frequently shut off, leaving the minor child alone in the dark and cold while hungry and thirsty.”

The rooms were either 4×10 or 5×8, according to the complaints. The children were only given a bucket to use as a toilet, and they often weren’t given toilet paper. Their meals while in quarantine usually were bread and fruit or rice and beans.

“Children would also be required to memorize bible verses or write out a whole bible chapter,” the complaint states. “And if they got any part of it wrong, they would have to stay for a longer time in ‘quarantine.’”

Some of the children were placed in these quarantine rooms for weeks or months at a time, the complaints state.

It was torture in the name of Jesus. It’s just that simple. We can only imagine the repercussions for those victims in the decades since they attended the Christian prison/school. In their lawsuits, many of the plaintiffs say they’ve suffered lifelong trauma. They’ve needed therapy and psychiatric help, and still deal with mental anguish. Just awful, awful stuff.

If the previous set of victims received a $52 million settlement, what will be the end result of these cases?

There are surely skeptics who may be asking why these other students waited until now to file their lawsuits. Was it because they saw the eye-popping settlement amount and decided they, too, wanted to cash in? That cynical belief would be wrong. In fact, West Virginia lawmakers passed a law in 2020 extending the statute of limitations in child sex abuse cases. The previous law had only given victims until age 22 to file their claims. The new law gives them until age 36 or four years after the abuse is discovered (whichever is later). That sensible move opened the window for more victims to seek justice.

It’s also what allowed this new group of former Miracle Meadows students to file their lawsuits.

Whatever the outcome, it’s a reminder that the word “Christian” is not synonymous with virtue. Anyone who pretends otherwise may be ignoring very real problems. In the case of this Seventh-day Adventist school, religion was a cover story for abuse, and the list of victims has only grown longer because parents trusted a woman who assured them she was acting in (literal) good faith.

(Screenshot via WCHS. Portions of this article were published earlier.)

Hemant Mehta is the founder of FriendlyAtheist.com, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.