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Update on Witte v. Clark County Board of Education Case

In our Alert about the Witte v. Clark County case (December 3, 1999), we posed several questions. Who knew about these practices? When did they know? It seemed impossible that this abuse could take place unless other people knew but looked the other way.

Clark County Public Schools are in Las Vegas Nevada. On Saturday, we spent a couple of hours in the archives of the Las Vegas Sun. During this cursory investigation, we learned about events that answered some of our questions in this troubling case. Here is a short list culled from the archives of Las Vegas Sun:

Independent Audit
In 1996, the special education department of Clark County submitted to an independent audit. In their 1996 report, the independent auditors identified 13 "specific violations of law, most involving the destruction or alteration of student records . . ." (Las Vegas Sun, June 29, 1999)

Illegal actions included "document destruction by top-level administrators, illegally drafted individual education plans [IEPs], violations of placement policies, improper counseling programs and a boondoggle in adaptive physical education." (Las Vegas Sun, July 21, 1996)

Use of "Aversive Discipline"

"Also under fire is CCSD's 'aversive behavior management' which authorizes personnel to force restless pupils onto treadmills and strap weights to their ankles to limit motion." ("Special education report set to explode?" Las Vegas Sun, July 21, 1996)


Cover-Up Attempts
After the auditors released their report, top-level special ed administrators destroyed documents, stonewalled, and attacked the auditors. ("CCSD plots to kill the messengers," Las Vegas Sun, June 29, 1996)

The director of special education threatened to sue a parent advocate on claims of defamation and conspiracy. The advocate's crime? She wrote a letter to the School Board about intimidation and civil rights violations. ("Former chief threatens to sue parent," Las Vegas Sun, June 28, 1996)

These assertions about intimidation were substantiated by the auditors who found that:

"Staff were ordered to change records, keep information out of a file, and/or not speak to anyone about the issue."

"Organizational paralysis is evident in the division. Staff often fear reprisal for their actions." ("Passages from the special education report," Las Vegas Sun, June 27,1996)

Multiple Violations of State and Federal Laws
Finally, in January 1997, Clark County administrators had to "release a three-inch bundle of documentation backing up allegations made by special education auditors that the district is in violation of state and federal laws." ("Report details allegations of school district's violations," Las Vegas Sun, January 29, 1997)

Who Knew? The Feds, the Nevada Legislature, the Nevada Dept of Ed.
Although special ed administrators tried to dismiss the audit findings, "comparisons with state and federal complaints show that the school district was put on notice for breaking state and federal laws as far back is 1991 . . . These allegations are substantiated by an investigation of the school district begun in October 1995 by the Office of Civil Rights . . . Public records show that the state Department of Education investigated the school district for a complaint filed in March 1996 . . ." ("Report details allegations of school district's violations," Las Vegas Sun, January 29, 1997)

In 1998, at least one parent testified before a committee of state legislators about "aversive discipline" of her seven year old child who was a special education student in Clark County. "The legislators said they were deeply troubled and discussed finding out how common [her] story might be." "There is a clear line between abuse and strict discipline, several lawmakers said." ("Special education faces more hurdles," Las Vegas Sun, April 1, 1998)

Other Lawsuits
In 1997, the parent of an 8 year old special education student filed suit against Clark County. The allegations in that case were similar to those in Shawn Witte's case: abuse, assault and battery, violation of the child's civil rights. The teacher was accused of forcing the child to walk on the treadmill while wearing leg weights, forcing the child into restrictive holds, spaying water in his face as punishment. This child also attended Variety School. The principal "backed the teacher" and "denounced the allegations." ("Mother of special education student files lawsuit," Las Vegas Sun, November 14, 1997)

One more thing. Clark County has been under OCR supervision since 1991.

And the beat goes on.

NOTE: To get copies of these and other articles about special education in Clark County, go to the Las Vegas Sun site and search through their archives.

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