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.