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Embattled Kansas military school plans to close

WICHITA, Kan. — An embattled Kansas military school announced Wednesday it plans to close after this school year, saying it has unfairly become a target for litigation and negative media portrayals.

St. John's Military School in Salina released a statement saying its leaders have sought to sustain the school through various strategies, but "the landscape of education has changed dramatically" resulting in lower enrollment and unsustainable higher costs of education.

"This, combined with St. John's having unfairly become a target for legal cases and negatively biased and misleading portrayals by some media outlets, has created an insurmountable situation that school leaders have been unable to overcome," the school said.

The school told parents and other supporters in a letter posted on its website that it had only been able to stay open due to the generosity of a few donors and its endowment fund, which it said has been expended. A $369,175 arbitration award in December against the school and its endowment fund was made public last month.

The Episcopalian boarding school plans to continue to operate through May 11, culminating with a celebration of its history during commencement weekend.

"Considerable research, thought, contemplation, discussion, and prayer has factored into this arduous decision," the school said in its release. "For over 131 years, St. John's has been a school dedicated to helping young men grow spiritually, morally, intellectually, and physically in a safe environment."

The private boarding school for grades 6 to 12 draws boys from around the country as it touts its ability to develop academic and leadership skills in a military environment. Tuition is $34,100 a year, according to its website.

The Salina boarding school has been dogged over the years by litigation. In the latest ruling, an arbitrator found the school failed to supervise cadets and intentionally inflicted emotional distress in 2014 on a bullied 11-year-old student who had been tied together with his harasser in public as punishment. Shortly thereafter, the boy was allegedly raped and sodomized by his harasser in a dorm room in Salina, according to a court filing.

The family's attorney, Dan Zmijewski, called news of the school's closure "fantastic."

"My life goal is to try to prevent horrific things from happening to kids and the best way to do that is to keep institutions like that from staying open," said Zmijewski, who filed several of the lawsuits against the school.

In 2014, St. John's settled on the eve of trial a lawsuit filed by Zmijewski on behalf of 11 former cadets who claimed the school's practice of giving higher-ranking cadets the power to discipline younger ones encouraged physical and mental abuse. The settlements in that lawsuit alone ranged from $55,000 to $1.8 million.

The largest of those went to the family of a 14-year-old California boy who alleged he was tormented by adults and students at the school, suffering two broken legs in separate incidents during four days he attended the school in 2012.

"In my opinion, it has been going on for too long and closing their doors is great news," Zmijewski said. "It can't happen to anybody else."

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