Mesabi Academy to close

Word NEWS in Old Typewriter Typebar Letters Isolated on WhiteThe Kidspeace Mesabi Academy juvenile corrections and school facility in Buhl will close at the end of June.

The move comes amid controversy over an American Public Media investigative report on allegations of abuse and interference with a county investigation at the facility. American Public Media is the parent organization of Minnesota Public Radio.

Those allegations have caused several counties to pull their children from Mesabi Academy. The state Department of Corrections also suspended new admissions at the facility until the allegations in question were reviewed.

Leaders at Mesabi Academy deny any wrongdoing. The attitude among some local leaders was heavily fixed on the threat of losing jobs if the facility closed. Almost 140 workers will be affected. Yet, the lack of consideration for the severity of the allegations drew the ire of many, including me.

It was clear from the APM report that bubbling concerns that Mesabi Academy might lose its licensure had cropped up last year. That’s why the matter ended up at the St. Louis County Board, providing some of the early fodder for the first APM story.

There are those who will pin this on “the media,” blaming APM/MPR for causing all this. The seeds of this strategy were already planted before the news dropped yesterday with the defensive reactions of Sen. David Tomassoni and a classic “news editorial” from the local Mesabi Daily News.

This was the quote in the MPR story today from Buhl Mayor Sheri Swanson:

“I’m really shocked that just a few hit pieces from you people could cause so much damage to their facility, when they’ve been doing what I’ve understood through the years to be a pretty good job,” Swanson told APM Reports this afternoon.

But I find it hard to believe that an institution of this size buckles this quickly without preexisting problems.

Also from the MPR Report:

APM Reports found that the facility had far more complaints filed against it with the corrections department than other corrections-licensed facilities and that in at least several cases, it had not reported to authorities allegations of sexual abuse that it learned of.

Reaction to the APM Reports stories was swift. St. Louis County authorities reopened an investigation into an allegation of sex abuse. Ramsey County removed more than 20 boys from the facility and, after interviewing them, referred two more allegations of maltreatment that St. Louis County is investigating.

Ramsey County Deputy Manager Meghan Mohs declined earlier this week to provide specifics about those two cases, but she dismissed criticism that the decision to remove kids was an overreaction.

“In this instance, we certainly felt that the health and safety concerns that we were seeing were significant enough that it was in the best interests of our kids to move them so that doesn’t to me equate to a knee-jerk reaction.”

Hennepin County also pulled about 20 boys from Mesabi Academy. It also referred to St. Louis County investigators allegations “that called into question their physical and-or emotional safety,” a spokeswoman said in an email.

Kidspeace Mesabi Academy made a cold calculation about its situation and walked away. In doing so, they provide a textbook example of how not to handle a public relations crisis.


  1. Has the range “circle the wagons” mentality gone so far now that Sen. Tomasoni and the Mesabi daily news have become apologists for child abuse?

    Simply unbelievable.

  2. It is amazing those in “authority” would take such action based on allegations. I have read around 10 different articles from four agencies and NOT ONE article mentioned ANYTHING about an allegation being proven/founded. Those in “authority” interrupted these children’s treatment because of rumors that could not be proven despite numerous investigations. And the media is trying to use the number of complaints as a reason to criticize Mesabi. Mesabi was known for taking youth other programs refused to admit. Other programs only admit the easier to treat kids. Mesabi admitted and successfully treated the angriest kids, the ones who would complain to anyone who would listen, the ones who would rather make lies/allegations/rumors than to have to address there issues in therapy. Anyone who runs or works in a facility like Mesabi is very familiar with this challenge. Too bad the County Social Services workers refused to admit this was true. The people who worked at Mesabi lived in the community. They went to church, took their kids Athletic events, participated in community service projects, their Executive Director is an Ordained Minister with a church who saw his work with youth as a calling from God. Are we to believe the media and these two County Social Service Agencies that these 140 staff members who live in the community would allow kids to be Sexually, Physically and/or
    Emotionally abused and not say a single thing about it to anyone???? Most of the kids removed from Mesabi have been placed in detention centers where they will receive little to no treatment. They will fall victim to the prison mentality but hey, at least , they will learn how to play cards, gamble and give each other tattoos.

    • So, the fact that two former staffers and one volunteer who WERE actually CONVICTED of having sex with kids at the facility in the past doesn’t mean anything at all, eh?

      Nor the fact that at least one of the boys who raised the issue, but then refused to admit anything to investigators has now firmly stated to his mother – on tape – that staff had sex with him?

      Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

    • On second thought, I think your right – the fact that the place is run by ordained minister means their couldn’t possibly be sexual abuse happening. I mean, that’s never ever ever been a problem with clergy, right?

  3. Privatize Social Services says

    MSM is exactly right. Also, weren’t there a few disgruntled employees try to get staff to unionize. When that didn’t work, didn’t the union leaders make up lies to contest the election. Why didn’t the media do a report on the County Worker who showed up when this all started to do an investigation wearing a “Pro-Union” T-Shirt. Hmmmm? Do we have a conspiracy????? Finally, why didn’t the media question the County Director about why they would send a former Mesabi Staff Member who now worked for the county to be a part of the investigation knowing he had been terminated for unprofessional behavior???

    • I’m not here to argue the point, but if you’re going to reply to your own comment agreeing with yourself you might want to check your IP address and wait for the first comment to be published before submitting the second one.

    • Actually, @PSS, if you read the full APM story, they do talk about and acknowledge the union issue at some length, if you bothered to actually read it instead of just getting high on faux outrage.

      The real moral outrage is that by refusing to take a pattern of sexual abuse accusations seriously, you enable pedophiles everywhere.

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