March 27, 2013 -- A Kansas military school for teenage boys has fostered a "dangerous and disturbing culture" of abuse that includes students being beaten, bound, bones broken and skin branded, according to a federal lawsuit.
Eleven former cadets are suing the St. John's Military School in Salina, Kan., after they said they were forced to endure harassment and abuse perpetrated by older recruits. The suit claims that the staff at the 126-year-old, $29,500 per year boarding school ignored the abuse. The school serves students from grades 6 to 12.
"The school allows and encourages older students to abuse young students – physically, mentally, emotionally and sexually," the lawsuit said. "Students reporting abuse are 'RATS' subject to additional abuse by the school and students for their disloyalty."
The school has received 339 verbal and written complaints over the past five years, according to court documents.
Andy England, president of the Episcopal affiliated school, said the number of complaints shows that the school is serious about safety.
"I think it shows that we are very thorough and that we keep records and stay on top of cadet behavior, even when the most minor of events happens between two men," he told ABCNews.com.
John Schultz, an attorney for the school, said allegations of widespread abuse were not true.
"I can tell you that what we have discovered in the case is that there was a campaign by one of the mothers to get others to join the lawsuit. The fact there are as many as there are doesn't give validity to any one or more," Schultz said.
The lawsuit, however, claims the school uses a "structured teaching model" that gives senior students the authority to discipline new and low ranking students.
A student identified in the lawsuit as K.N. said he attended the school for the spring 2011 semester. During that time, he was bound and gagged with the photos posted to Facebook, he was urinated on in the shower and was locked in a locker for 30 minutes, according to the lawsuit.
When his parents confronted the school, they were told their son was making up stories to try and leave school, the lawsuit said.
It was a familiar refrain other parents said they heard after taking their concerns about their sons' alleged abuses to school officials, the complaint states.
The fear of retribution was so ingrained in a student identified as N.S. that he asked his parents not to tell school officials after he was physically beaten, according to the lawsuit.
During his time at the school, N.S. also said he witnessed attempted suicides and an attempted rape, the lawsuit said.
It got so bad, according to the lawsuit, that N.S. tried to hitchhike to Colorado, however, he was found on the side of the highway and beaten as he was bussed back to the school.
Another student, identified as M.K., said after he graduated from the "New Boy" program at the school, he was "held down against his will and branded on his stomach," according to the lawsuit.
A student identified as J.M., said on his first day at the school in August 2011, he was pushed from behind while running and tumbled to the ground, and at some point during physical training that day his left leg gave out and he collapsed, the lawsuit said.
For the next three days, he was forced to participate in physical training and briefly received crutches for his injury, according to the documents, however they were later taken away.
On the fourth day, after J.M. collapsed in the cafeteria, he was picked up and thrown outside on the cement ground, the lawsuit said.
Kansas Military School Accused of Ignoring Abuse
"Once again, rather than getting J.M. necessary and immediate medical attention, the staff and students decided to play with J.M. They dragged him by his ankles, shaking them wildly, kicked him in the knees, demanded he stand up on his broken legs and threatened to punch him in his mouth if he did not stop screaming," the lawsuit said.
That night, the lawsuit said his mattress was placed on the floor and he was dumped from a shopping cart onto the ground. He was able to get his upper body onto the mattress and spent the night on the floor, the documents said.
"He was yelled at and told to stand again," the lawsuit said. "After explaining he could not stand up, he was put in a chair and rolled to the nurse's office. While waiting to see a nurse, it was, finally, at this point when an ambulance was called."
An X-ray at the hospital showed J.M. had two broken legs with the bone displaced several inches below the knee, according to the lawsuit.
Each plaintiff "continues to suffer his own distinct damages as a result of St. John's negligence in the form of medical bills, psychiatric bills, rehabilitation costs, pain and suffering and other damages," the lawsuit said.
"The lawsuit and the allegations contained therein speaks to the culture and the environment of the school and our contention that there is a pattern and practice that has been going on for a while and needs to be fixed," the plaintiffs' attorney, Dan Zmijewski, told ABCNews.com
England, however, said the claims are unfounded and that his school is simply providing a system that teaches teenage boys structure.
"There's a high level of accountability," he said, "from the moment their boots hit the ground until their head hits their pillow."