People of Praise school official says allegation of sexual abuse was mishandled

A Minneapolis-area school run by the Christian group People of Praise mishandled a student’s allegation of sexual abuse against a teacher, the school board president acknowledged in a recent email to teachers and parents.

People of Praise began investigating reports of abuse within the close-knit community last year. The Aug. 6 email also acknowledged an ongoing investigation into similar reports involving the same teacher.

Katie Logan told The Washington Post she was molested by Dave Beskar two weeks after her graduation from Trinity School at River Ridge in 2001, when she was 17. She also told The Post about her report to police in December 2020.

At the time of the alleged incident, Beskar was a 35-year-old teacher and girls’ basketball coach who lived in a People of Praise home for celibate men. Logan reported the alleged incident to a school official in 2006, but Beskar remained on staff until 2011, when he became the headmaster of two new charter schools in Arizona.

Beskar returned to the Minneapolis area to become headmaster of another Christian school in 2015. He resigned last month from Chesterton Academy of the Twin Cities, according to a school official, after The Post published Logan’s account in June.

That month, Trinity Schools received the “additional reports of sexual misconduct” by Beskar, according to the email from Jon Balsbaugh, president of the Trinity board of trustees, which operates three schools in Eagan, Minn., South Bend, Ind., and Falls Church, Va. He wrote that he could not provide details because of privacy concerns.

In the email, Balsbaugh does not identify Logan as the victim but describes a report of sexual misconduct reported by an “alumna” that occurred shortly after the student’s graduation in 2001.

“Trinity School as an organization did not respond to and handle earlier reports regarding Mr. Beskar the way that we would handle such reports today or that we want such matters to be handled,” Balsbaugh said in the email. “We wish we could go back in time and handle things differently.”

In a separate email to The Post on Monday, Balsbaugh said that if the school received an allegation of abuse today, law enforcement and child protective services would be contacted. He also said the accused would typically be put on administrative leave while the report is investigated.

“We are creating more robust policies and procedures for receiving, investigating, and addressing reports of sexual misconduct and other forms of abuse,” he said.

Beskar did not respond to requests for comment on the email. He told police that he had no physical or sexual contact with Logan.

The broader People of Praise inquiry began last year, following the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, who has roots in People of Praise and who served on the board of Trinity Schools after Beskar left.

Barrett’s rising national profile led about three dozen people raised in People of Praise to come together in a private Facebook group and share stories of sexual and physical abuse. One of the Facebook group’s founders, Sarah Kuehl, went public with her own account last fall, leading People of Praise to hire law firms to investigate her claim and other abuse allegations.

Craig Lent, chairman of the religious group’s board of governors, went to Logan’s home in July, she said, to apologize to her and her parents, longtime People of Praise members, and to deliver a report by the Lathrop GPM law firm into her allegation. The report by the firm said it found credible Logan’s account that Beskar came to her house to use the family computer and later pressed up against her and put his finger in her vagina. The report, which was obtained by The Post, also says that Beskar did not respond to a request for an interview.

The report echoed the investigation by police in Eden Prairie, Minn., after Logan filed a 2020 complaint. Police recommended charging Beskar with a felony of criminal sexual conduct in the third degree, records show. The statute of limitations in 2001 and the way the law was written at that time precluded charges being filed, a spokesman for the county attorney’s office told The Post.

Kuehl and some other members of the private Facebook group said they are concerned that People of Praise leaders are singling out the former teacher and failing to acknowledge a broader climate that emphasizes traditional gender roles and discourages “gossip” among community members, protecting abusers.

“The problem is not just one person, or one school or one branch,” Kuehl said.

Members of the “PoP Survivors” Facebook group created a website to offer information and support to other victims of abuse. The group is urging People of Praise to acknowledge a “systematic failure” to protect children, to add more women to leadership positions and to do outreach to former community members and Trinity students.

Lent declined to comment on the recent email and ongoing investigation.

Balsbaugh wrote in the email that “the final responsibility for protecting students and restoring trust rests with me,” but he did not detail his role in Logan’s case.

Logan said that in 2006 she called the school’s highest-ranking woman, Dean of Girls Penny Arndt, and told her about the alleged incident with Beskar. Arndt told police she relayed that account to the president of the Trinity Schools board at the time, Kerry Koller. She said she didn’t know what, if any, action Koller took. He died last year.

Arndt reported the allegation to Balsbaugh after he became the school’s headmaster in 2009 “so that it didn’t fall by the wayside because Dave was still there,” according to an audio recording of her police interview.

Balsbaugh told police that he did not learn of Logan’s complaint until Beskar had left the school in 2011. He also told police he thought Logan was 18 at the time of the “inappropriate advances” and that therefore no crime had occurred.

See the original story here.

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