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Midwest Academy: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

Midwest Academy, WWASPS

Midwest Academy is accused of keeping students in isolation boxes. It may be connected to the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools (WWASPS), which has been the subject of many abuse and neglect lawsuits. Midwest, whose property was bought by WWASP founder Robert Lichfield, has denied the connection. (Google Maps)

Former students at Midwest Academy in Keokuk, Iowa, are accusing school administrators of keeping them in isolation, cell-like rooms for days and hours on end, in conditions that felt like torture. The boarding school for troubled teens may be part of the controversial WWASPS (World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools), which has faced lawsuits before for fraud and abuse of students.

Here’s what you need to know.


1. Midwest Academy Is Accused of Locking Students in Tiny Isolation Boxes for Days or More

Midwest Academy Lichfield, Midwest WWASPS, WWASP Lichfield

(Google Maps)

Midwest Academy, located in Keokuk, Iowa, came under scrutiny after allegations that a staff member had sexually assaulted a student. The school was raided in late January and temporarily closed, WNCN reported. Six former students have since come forward with allegations of abuse. They said they had to sit in small, isolation rooms in a specific posture for 24 hours on end. The rooms were harshly lit and filled with sounds of screaming or motivational recordings. All the noise makes it impossible to sleep, one student said, and you only get out for bathroom breaks, WNCN reported. Some students are kept in isolation for weeks, former students said. One girl said she only got out because she cut herself with a bottle cap and begged for medical help.

Another student said the loudspeakers made loud, screeching noises and it was so terrible that she tried to commit suicide in her cell. Another student said he saw a girl draw on the wall with her own blood because of the conditions. An Iowa juvenile law expert told WNCN that this type of treatment can be especially damaging for youth who have mental illness and can lead to PTSD. The school itself hasn’t yet commented. But WGEM spoke with Tyler McGhyghy, who worked at Midwest for seven years, and he said the accusations were false. He said the school had an extensive protocol to limit interactions between adults and minors.

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2. The School Says It Provides Structure and Discipline for Struggling Teens

According to Midwest Academy’s website, it’s a “therapeutic boarding school” that helps provide “struggling teens with a safe, structured, and disciplined environment.” It says that its seminars, therapy, and academic programs help teens excel.

WNCN reported that because the school is privately funded and has no state-ordered placements, it doesn’t require a license to operate and is pretty much unregulated. It’s not designated a psychiatric medical health institution or a residential treatment center, so it’s not subject to relevant Iowa codes and oversight. It’s not registered as a boarding home either, The Des Moines Register reported.

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3. Midwest Academy May Be Connected to the Frequently Sued WWASPS, But Denies This Connection

Midwest Academy, wWasp

Midwest Academy (Google Maps)

The Des Moines Register did a little digging and discovered that Midwest Academy’s property was purchased in 2003 by a partnership run by Robert Lichfield of Utah. He later transferred the deed to a limited liability company called Midwest Twister. That company’s mailing address is Lichfield’s R&B Management company in Utah, The Des Moines Register reported.

Lichfield is the founder of the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools, a company that has ties to 26 or more boarding schools and treatment centers around the world and brings in about $90 million in gross revenue every year.

Meanwhile, Midwest Academy denies any affiliation with WWASPS. On a YouTube video the school posted (posted under Fact #2), one commenter complained about their association with WWASPS. Midwest’s YouTube account owner wrote, four years ago: “Just to clarify with you we have never and are NOT affiliated or associated with the WWASP organization. However, we were utilizing marketing services and billing services, that were owned by the same owners of WWASP.” The commenter went on to say that when the association began to negatively affect their school, they terminated the marketing services and distanced themselves from the WWASP name.

However, a New York Times article from 2013 stated that Lichfield, family members, and business partners have financial interests in many schools through a network of limited liability companies and property ownership. These entities may oversee marketing, business, and educational services for many schools and get up to one-third of the school’s gross revenues. One anonymous owner of a school said that even after ownership was transferred to him, Lichfield still controlled the money flow. This 2013 article listed Midwest Academy as one of the programs with ties to Lichfield, according to testimony and business filings.

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4. WWASPS Has Been Sued and Accused of Abuse on Numerous Occasions

WWASPS has come under intense legal scrutiny and is the subject of many complaints. According to The Des Moines Register, WWASPS was the subject of five federal lawsuits between 2005 and 2013, each claiming fraud or abuse of students at its boarding schools. The cases were dismissed prior to trial. Accusations included unsanitary living conditions, isolation, sexual abuse, and being locked in a dog cage. In 2004, a counselor at a WWASPS school in  Utah was convicted of child abuse. In 2007, a director of a Lichfield-affiliated school in Colorado was convicted of false imprisonment and assault of students. Another WWASPS school in Nevada lost its license after two students were sexually assaulted in 2007.

An article run by The New York Times in 2013 brought up many of these accusations, saying that the Utah-based “tough love” boarding school was forced to close almost 24 programs because of child abuse claims. Lichfield told The New York Times that he no longer owned any of the schools and didn’t know about any children being harmed. He said he only supplied business and educational services for more than a decade. But he did say that such accusations are common when working with troubled adolescents:

All schools working with disturbed teens have a few students who are angry and manipulative, with long histories of lying and dishonesty, who will make allegations…”

He said the satisfaction rate for the past 20 years was about 96 percent. However, many people dispute those numbers. In fact, a website called WWASP Survivors has been set up to give support to alumni. An article written by The Huffington Post in 2011, when discussing a class-action suit by 350 former students against WWASPS, quoted the lawsuit as saying:

In many instances, the abuse could be accurately described as torture of children…”

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5. Online Reviews of the Expensive Midwest Academy Are Mixed

midwest academy reviews

Online reviews for Midwest Academy on Google are mixed. (Google Reviews)

According to WNCN, Midwest Academy costs about $5,000 a month to attend. On the website Teen Revitalization, which advertises Midwest Academy, month-to-month rates are $3,490, prepaid monthly fees are $3,190, and registration is $2,000. Although Teen Revitalization doesn’t name Midwest as the school on its website, this school newsletter shows Midwest as being one of their schools.

The online reviews for the academy are mixed. One former student wrote on Google that when she first got there she hated it, but she grew in ways unimaginable as she progressed through the system. A mom said she had great success when she sent two of her kids to the school. Another reviewer said that the 14 months she spent there were the worst of her life. The Google reviews continue the same, alternating between 5 stars and 1 star.

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11 comments

  1. These abuse allegations are absolutely and completely false. I attended Midwest Academy myself and was forced to leave recently by the FBI when they shut it down.
    They have a very loving environment and Midwest Academy was the best thing that ever happened to me. When I first got there I hated it, because I was not open to change and was a very non-working person. But as I progressed through the program I grew in more ways imaginable. It hurts me to see all these negative reviews on MWA containing false information. Midwest Academy saved my life, my family relationships, helped me to discover who I really am, my purpose in life, to let go of addictions, past baggage, and so many non-working patterns. I highly recommend this school!
    Former student of Midwest Academy
    Elizabeth Davis

    • Sounds all nice, except you should talk to some of the gay students who were sent to schools like these. Not a pretty picture at all.

      • Was there something I missed. It sounds like you had a negative experience somewhere. Did you attend MWA or some other school? I did my homework before sending my child there MWA is a Family focused program that helps a lot of people They are not connected to wwasp. I asked Ben the question myself and got he truth. The only connection was some start up funding and Ben’s former connection to another school. The MWA program is unique and does not include any anti gay reversion therapy or anything like that. I personally went to several seminars there. LGBT subjects were not part of the topics. I’m sorry if you had a bad experience and I hope you find the things you are searching for but you should not attach your experiences to a school that you may have not attended.

      • Now my sister went there and there I have not heard a single thing about any LGBT discrimination whatsoever. I’ve heard stories of plenty of them from her, but none involving different treatment from staff or student. The owner Ben Trane is probably the most passionate and caring teacher there is. He drives the students to each of the churches for each religion for those who attend. He may not worship their God, but he participates in all their services, he takes them out for trips and meals on weekends or special events, during emergency a such as a tornado he stays with the students instead of his own children. He told me that he had disagreements with his wife (in the past) that he put more importance on the students than his children, which is true. He said, “Yes they are my children. But all of these kids are someone else’s children, and they put their trust in me to keep them safe from harm”. As a firsthand record of his character, I can personally say that these accusations are false.

    • Elizabeth- Did you know Makenzie Forcheimer ? Her family has been looking for her and has no information on what happened to her when the school closed. We are desperately trying to find her and make sure she is safe. Thank you so much for any information.

      • I knew a Makenzie Murray and a Mckenzie Johnson, there was no student by that name that attended the school. Did she perhaps go by a different name?

    • No this is completly true because i also attended the school and it mentally abused me as well as others who were in b.i. everyday.

  2. 1st, Let me say this I am a parent of a Midwest Academy Graduate. My child was a drug addict, run away, and a pathological liar. He attempted suicide, was in acute behavioral care 3 times and was about to be adjudicated to a youth prison for continued severer defiance to all authority, after we hired 3 different mental health providers, and followed the public health system recommendations to the letter. we chose Midwest Academy. ALL the students hate it there. That is because the school holds them accountable for their actions. I have personally been to the facility and toured it several times. The “isolation boxes” are small interior rooms well lit with open doors. Students were told to behave or stay in the room. Similar to a child in time out. There is a sheet of expectations and consequences each student must learn and understand. Students gain privileges with each positive and learn that acting in a respectful manner. The program lasts about a year and it changed the lives of all my family members. Ben Trane is also one of the kindest, most intelligent people I have ever met and cares more about these kids than some of their parents do. I saw families from all places, social backgrounds and races, CEO’s, teachers, nurses, small business owners, factory workers etc. all with one common goal . Helping their child navigate the difficult road to adulthood. I also saw the results of uncommitted youth taking the “exit plan” 1 drug overdose death, one returned to addiction, I met a lovely former student at the hampton inn very polite and had nothing negative to say about the school. Any consequence the student is self imposed. and they know it ahead of the action. Don’t judge this type of school unless you have been there. The news media is at best semi accurate. Thank You

    PS Elizabeth Best wishes. I only hope you can return and graduate. Sounds like you worked very hard

  3. Did any of you know Makenzie Forcheimer ? Her family has been looking for her and has no information on what happened to her when the school closed. We are desperately trying to find her and make sure she is safe. Thank you so much for any information.