2021 Public Service (Larger Newsroom) and Hechinger Prize Winner

Laura Bauer & Judy Thomas, The Kansas City Star

About the Winners:

The Kansas City Star team began investigating religious boarding schools after many quietly formed in Missouri over the past 40 years. The schools, some that had been investigated or shut down elsewhere, sought refuge in the Show-Me State — where the law exempted them from licensure and any accountability. Once here, The Kansas City Star found, they operated off the radar, continuing the same abuse and extreme discipline that got them in trouble in other states. That is beginning to change because of The Star’s reporting and its immediate, statewide impact.

Comments from the Judges:

“The stories carry a gut-punch of human interest, and they lit a fire under policymakers in Missouri, who belatedly closed a dangerous regulatory loophole. Change would not have happened without the persistence of the Star’s reporting team, which stayed on top of the issue and followed the policymaking process well beyond the initial series. It’s hard to think of anything more important than keeping kids safe from being beaten and raped at school, and the work of the Star shone a spotlight [on] both individualized criminal wrongdoing and a systemic breakdown in oversight.”

“This package presents critical reporting about the abuse of power and neglect of children, facilitated by state negligence. Reporters succeeded in covering delicate issues like sexual assault with sensitivity that still conveyed the seriousness of the crimes committed against children. The reporting has already gotten results by prompting changes in the legislature.​”