Anchor Character Training Center in Ft. Dodge, IA
Photo credit: Harvest Baptist Church
Anchor Character Training Center in Ft. Dodge, IA
Photo credit: Harvest Baptist Church

(Des Moines, IA) Last legislative session the General Assembly passed a law requiring children’s residential facilities to be licensed in order to be sure they were properly regulated and had proper oversight. This was in response to founded cases of abuse at a residential facility in SE Iowa.

The law requires these facilities to be inspected by the Iowa Department of Public Health and Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals. It also required facilities that provide education for their residents to be certified by the Iowa Department of Education.

State Representative Matt Windschitl (R-Missouri Valley) was the floor manager of HF 602, a bill that was designed to correct a mistake in last year’s bill. Windschitl stated that last year’s children’s residential facilities bill wrapped in an institution that finds itself not qualified to receive certification from the Iowa Department of Education because of the curriculum they use – Accelerated Christian Education – because it is not accredited for use in schools that are licensed and certified by the Iowa Department of Education.

The facility is Anchor Character Training Center in Ft. Dodge, IA. The residential facility is a ministry of Harvest Baptist Church in Ft. Dodge that was started in 1996 to serve troubled adolescents ages 12 to 18. The center has ministered to over 600 young people from 47 states and 5 foreign countries in the 21 years it has been in operation.

Windschitl noted that Anchor Character Training Center has served many students that have gone on to go to college some even attending Iowa’s private and Regent universities. HF 602 provides an exception for facilities using ACE at the time the law is enacted which only impacts the training center. The bill only exempts the center from having to be certified by the Iowa Department of Education so they do not have to change the faith-based curriculum they use especially since they never sought or desired to be certified by the state. The bill does not exempt the center from inspections by the Iowa Department of Public Health or Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals.

There are a number of non-accredited non-public schools in Iowa, but Anchor Character Training Center is the only 24/7 residential facility.

On Monday the bill passed overwhelmingly in the Iowa House on a 58 to 40 vote along partisan lines with Republicans supporting and Democrats opposing the bill.

During debate two Democrats demonstrated anti-religious bigotry in their comments on the floor.

State Representative Mary Mascher (D-Iowa City) said, “Obviously there is a problem if there are students applying to these institutions (Regents universities) and they are being turned down because they are not adequately prepared.”

She said she requested the information, but did not provide any data indicating a problem while at the same time criticizing Windschitl for not providing data. She asserted there are students from Anchor Character Training Center who do get turned down.

Probably, does she believe there are not public school students who get turned down as well? Does she not understand this particular population of students? Not every student is wired to go to a four-year school, and that tends to be higher among high-risk youth. Without any data to back it up she asserts the problem is with the curriculum, which is accredited in other states, not the nature of the students they serve.

She then said, “this program does not have the best track record.”

Based on what? No data. No examples. She just vilifies the institution.

Then Mascher complains that a lot of the students are from out-of-state. “A lot of them are from out-of-state. That should be a red flag for us. We do not want to be a mecca or someplace people come because they are trying to avoid laws in other states,” she added.

Seriously? What proof does she have that occurs? Who is she talking to? Also does she have the same complaint about Sequel Youth Services, a for-profit group, who operates Woodward Academy and Clarinda Academy? They do have some contract beds with the Iowa Department of Human Services, but most of their students when I was involved in providing (shudder) chaplaincy programs at Woodward Academy most of their students were from out-of-state as well.

This isn’t to say anything is wrong with Sequel Youth Services, I merely use them as an example to demonstrate how absurd that complaint is. I don’t think I’m stepping too far out of a limb to say most private facilities in Iowa have at least some out-of-state kids. The state of Iowa has cut back over the years the number of students who they will put into placement.

Mascher then complained about parents not being allowed to visit for a “period of time.” The center’s application states the residents won’t receive visits for 30 days or even phone calls during that first month beyond the first three days they are there.

This program is totally voluntary and the center makes it abundantly clear it is not accredited by the state. Something to realize when a parent places their child in a facility like this there are probably some severe problems at home. Having no contact for a month can provide a cooling off period that allows the resident to focus on the program. Most in-patient drug treatment programs also has a similar requirement so this really isn’t unusual at all.

If parents don’t like the rules they are free not to send their child.

Her last complaint was the most outrageous. Mascher said people in the community consider them “a cult.”

What? Again who are these people she is talking to? This church is an independent Baptist Church. They have some positions that I personally wouldn’t agree with – like being King James Version only. They probably also have some practices and expectations of Christians that I may disagree with.

None of those make them a cult. Their ultimate “sin” in a liberal like Mascher’s eyes is that their approach to helping troubled teens is different than what you see in most residential facilities. That is because discipleship is not at the center of what those other facilities do.

State Representative Sharon Steckman (D-Mason City) also took a shot at the facility’s use of ACE.

I find it extremely ironic that she uses homeschooling as an example of why she is opposed to the center using curriculum not accredited by the Iowa Department of Education. Steckman has been less than supportive of homeschooling (an understatement). Yes it is likely that many of these students have to use the same process to apply for college as homeschoolers since they are not going through an accredited school. As a homeschooling parent with a student who graduated with an associates degree who is now in four-year university, and another student who completed an EMT certification who is considering nursing school it isn’t particularly onerous.

This wasn’t the most outrageous statement she made.

“The curriculum has to be reviewed. What did these kids learn in this situation they were in before they can be accepted. It really bothers me that we are making an exception for this one school with a program that does not have a very good background – Accelerated Christian Education – some of the things they teach I’m not sure that would qualify them to be going to a Regents university at all,” Steckman said.

What exactly do they teach that wouldn’t qualify them? Creationism? Is it the fact that ACE claims to be “biblically-based” the problem?

If she actually provided examples of how the curriculum negatively impacts literacy or doesn’t that it’s math curriculum doesn’t adequately prepare students for college I could respect that. I doubt that is the problem though. If that is the problem surely she will then renege her support of Common Core State Standards as ACT points out Common Core doesn’t fully reflect college readiness either.

In response to the bill’s passage in the Iowa House, Windschitl, told Caffeinated Thoughts, “They have been doing good things in the lives of their students, we should allow them to continue their good work.”

State Representative Skyler Wheeler (R-Orange City) was disappointed by the Democrats’ opposition of the bill and statements they made about the school.

“The mockery of the Bible from certain Democrat representatives tonight was downright shameful. We have loads of Christian-educated people who have become doctors, professors, inventors, politicians, professional athletes, you name it. The inventor of the MRI was a Bible-believing, young-earth Creationist. There are multiple scientists, professors in public universities, high school science teachers, etc. who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible. I am appalled at these remarks. There shouldn’t be a Christian in the world who would vote for people like these,” Wheeler told Caffeinated Thoughts.

HF 602 now goes to the Iowa Senate.

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