Star Academy Sale ‘Huge Loss’ for Juvenile Justice

Watertown State Senator Neal Tapio‘s continued investigation of the impacts of closure of Star Academy is uncovering shocking incidents of classroom violence and disruption of the educational environment, often at the hands of students who previously would have been sent to Star Academy.

In early December, an Edgemont teen used a box cutter to slash the throat of a fellow art student, barely missing his carotid artery and sending him to the hospital where doctors narrowly saved his life.  Witnesses say after the attack, the girl threatened another nearby boy with the weapon saying, “You’re next.”

An investigation revealed the girl involved in that attack had recently relocated after being expelled from another school district in the region.  People in the Edgemont community believe the closure of Star Academy is facilitating the premature return of troubled students to school environments without addressing their dangerous behavior before it’s too late.

“We need it back.  We need it running and we needed it yesterday,” said Sandra Woodward, Edgemont City Council President.  Woodward is among a growing group of citizens, educators and law enforcement leaders who believe the sale of the Star Academy property is a mistake and that the facility is a badly needed component of juvenile justice and education.

“With troubled kids we have two choices, get them back on track and addressing their problems or we condemn them to an adult life behind bars,”  Woodward said.

“I’ve seen kids that went to Star Academy who turned their lives around and are doing well.”

Around the state, educators, law enforcement leaders and lawmakers are adding their names to a letter calling on Governor Dennis Daugaard to halt the pending sale of the Star Academy property, citing new trends in classroom violence and an overall disruption of educational quality caused by the loss of that facility.  State Senator Neal Tapio remains at the forefront of that effort.

“I am surprised by the incredibly large number of people willing to come forward to openly discuss the failures of the criminal justice reform package contained in Senate Bills 70 and 73, including the closure of Star Academy near Custer,” Tapio said.

“Nearly every conversation I have had with key personnel indicate that we have taken all of the teeth out of the juvenile justice system.”  Tapio said.

“It’s been four years since those bills were made law.  And the evidence is overwhelming that Star Academy is a vital component of juvenile justice and that we need Star Academy to reman a place where we can address the needs of troubled students whose behavior is a threat to those around them,” Tapio said.

Tapio traveled the state extensively talking in person to educational leaders and law enforcement professionals who have seen the impacts of the Star Academy closure in everyday practice.  More than 50 agreed to sign a formal request of Governor Dennis Daugaard to stop the January 4th auction of the 180-acre property.

Sandra Woodward says business and civic leaders in communities are also feeling the loss of the facility, which she has seen play a vital role in the lives of troubled youth.  She says the simple life lessons of basic character and hard work apply to every area of life.

“Teach them discipline.  Teach them honor.  Give them the tools they need to succeed.”  Woodward said.

“The prospect of Star Academy never being there and being what it was, is frightening to me.”