"Sam Gerhardt confirmed Wednesday morning the closure of the school."
May 28 2004 at 9:03 PM
Smoke N Mirrors
Mountain Park Academy Closes
A private boarding school for troubled teens, located near Patterson, has closed. Mountain Park Baptist Boarding Academy was one of two schools owned by rev. Bobby Wills and his wife Betty.
rev. Sam Gerhardt confirmed Wednesday morning the closure of the school. Gerhardt also said that the Wills' other boarding school, Palm Lane Academy in Florida, has also closed.
"It is just time," Gerhardt stated. "rev. Wills is retiring. We've been in some battles for the last couple of years. It is just time for us to do something different."
In recent years, the school has been embattled in civil lawsuits. The legal battles have been over allegations of fALSE IMPRISONMENT, ABUSE,DENIAL OF MEDICAL TREATMENT, and DRUGGING STUDENTS. In April, a federal judge ruled the school did not violate federal labor laws when it forced a student to perform hours of chores for no money.
For all of the controversy, the school has changed the lives of countless people. In the past, the school has claimed a 90-percent success rate.
The school term at Mountain Park ended recently. This year, 12 students graduated. Since the opening of the school 17 years ago, more than 1,000 children have been educated at the private school.
When the decision was made to close Mountain Park Academy, school officials notified parents.
"We had to talk about some options for them and make some suggestions for them," Gerhardt said. "But, it was fine. Obviously, they were happy (with their children) here. Most of them were hoping that their children would be here until graduation. Circumstances being what they were, they were all accepting. They either found other options or decided to bring their child home."
The Wills opened Mountain Park some time after he began buying the school's 164-acre tract in Wayne County in August 1987. Until that year, he had operated the Christian Life Boarding Academy south of Hattiesburg, Miss., which he had opened in 1972.
Mountain Park was one of several teen reform ministries in Missouri. The school relied on Bible teachings, strict discipline, and corporal punishment to turn teens around.
Parents throughout the United States found the school. When it first opened, tuition was about $600 per month. In recent years, tuition rates had escalated to about $1,200 per month.
The student population has dwindled in recent years. According to a recent AP story, the total student count in April was 40 students. In October 2003, the school had an enrollment of 54 girls and 21 boys.
Workers at the school have been told that their last day will be Friday. Many have already found other jobs. The school and its property have been placed on the market.
Gerhardt said his family has plans for the future. Gerhardt served as the school's principal, and his wife Debbie was a teacher. Their married children were also employed at the school. Gerhardt said the family plans to continue to work in the ministry. The work will not be with a rescue ministry or a boarding school.
"The Lord has already given us some other direction," Gerhardt said. "We have accepted that this is of the Lord. Some doors close and other doors open. We have had to come to a place that the Lord has a plan. We don't always understand His ways and what He is doing. But, we trust Him. We're excited to see what He has laid out for us."