Boarding school leader gets temporary order to keep name off Missouri abuse registry

Emily Curiel/ecuriel@kcstar.com

Agape Boarding School’s longtime leader recently filed for a temporary restraining order against the state to keep his name off Missouri’s Central Registry for child abuse and neglect.

Bryan Clemensen filed a motion for the restraining order on Nov. 22 in Cole County Circuit Court. The next day, Judge Brian Stumpe granted the order and the Missouri Department of Social Services, which maintains the registry, received a summons.

“It is therefore Ordered that Respondent (DSS/Children’s Division) be and is hereby restrained from listing Petitioner on the Missouri Child Abuse and Neglect Central Registry,” according to a docket entry on the state’s online court database.

The order also stated that Clemensen “shall have no physical contact with any person under the age of 18 at Agape Boarding School in Stockton, Missouri.”

It is not clear, however, whether Clemensen’s name was ever placed on the registry or if his request for the temporary restraining order was to keep it from going on. Stumpe’s ruling said the order would expire in 15 days if not further extended by the court.

Clemensen did not respond Thursday to a request for comment.

Missouri’s Central Registry contains the names of people who, through a DSS investigation, have been determined “to be perpetrators of child abuse and/or neglect,” according to the state’s child welfare agency. People are put on the registry for findings of physical, sexual or emotional abuse, or educational and medical neglect.

According to the state: “An individual’s name will be added to the (registry) if the Children’s Division case investigation yields a finding of preponderance of evidence, probable cause, reason to suspect, or court adjudication that abuse and/or neglect did occur.”

Earlier this year, The Star learned that DSS substantiated findings of child abuse or neglect against Clemensen and two other Agape employees. Clemensen appealed and an administrative hearing was held on Nov. 17. As a result of that hearing, according to Clemensen’s new court filing, the Child Abuse/Neglect Review Board upheld DSS’s initial findings from May 19.

If an appeal is denied, the finding becomes final and the person is placed on the state’s Central Registry. Missouri law prohibits someone from working at a residential care facility if the person has a substantiated finding of child abuse or neglect or is placed on the registry.

Missouri law also says that an alleged perpetrator may seek judicial review of a decision from the Child Abuse/Neglect Review Board. The request must be made within 60 days of the board’s decision. In reviewing a decision, the law says, the circuit court must give the alleged perpetrator the opportunity to appear and present testimony and subpoena witnesses except the alleged victim or the person who reported the incident.

Clemensen filed a petition for that review.

DSS’ action to place him on the Central Registry, the petition said, “is erroneous, improper, unconstitutional, and violates the law.”

Multiple sources have told The Star in recent months that Scott Dumar, Agape’s longtime medical coordinator, also was among those appealing a DSS finding. In addition, Dumar is one of five staff members charged last year with physical abuse of Agape students.

A third Agape employee, Dan Goldsmith, appealed a DSS finding as well.

The Star reported in September that DSS had confirmed 10 other findings of physical abuse involving Agape staff. Those findings were final dispositions and the workers involved were placed on the state’s Central Registry and do not currently work at any boarding schools in Missouri, DSS officials said.

Those 10 represent the number of abuse findings, DSS said, not necessarily the number of people investigated. In other words, one person could have multiple findings.

Another Agape employee was added to the Central Registry soon after that, bringing to 11 the number of substantiated findings related to the Cedar County boys boarding school.

The Missouri Attorney General’s Office filed an injunction in early September to close the school, saying current students’ safety was in jeopardy. The case has been tied up in court ever since.

The Star has investigated Agape and other boarding schools in southern Missouri since late summer 2020. Many men who attended the school in their youth said they were subjected to physical restraints, extreme workouts, long days of manual labor, and food and water withheld as punishment. And, they said, students endured constant berating and mind games, and some were physically and sexually abused by staff and other youth.

Prompted by stories of abuse at several unlicensed Christian boarding schools in Missouri, legislators successfully pushed for change in the state law to implement some oversight of those schools. That law, which went into effect in July 2021, requires schools for the first time to register with the state, conduct background checks on employees and undergo health, safety and fire inspections.

The law also gives DSS, the attorney general or the local prosecuting attorney the authority to petition the court to close a facility if there is an immediate health or safety concern for the children.

As of last month, Agape had 27 students, a fraction of the population the school had in early 2021 when the Missouri Highway Patrol and DSS launched an investigation into abuse allegations. That investigation led to the assault charges against the five staffers.

The new court documents, filed on behalf of Clemensen, said that in early February 2021, he reported suspected child abuse to the Children’s Division involving an Agape staff member. The staffer was described in the records only by the initials T.H.

“On information and belief, this report prompted Respondent (DSS/CD) to open not only an investigation into the alleged incident reported, but also to open a ‘school-wide investigation’ into Agape,” it said.

The investigation, the petition for appeal said, included numerous days of interviews “performed in part by untrained professionals with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, which were done at the school on the entire student body at Agape (all 121 students), in an improper and wrongful search attempting to find any possible basis for Respondent (DSS/CD) to claim ‘abuse or neglect’ of students was taking place.”

As a result of the “improperly obtained and conducted interviews,” the petition said that DSS has attempted to place Clemensen and numerous other current and former Agape staffers on the Central Registry.