In recent years, West Virginia schools have seen a rise in abuse of special education students (also known as special needs students). In response, the West Virginia legislature recently passed laws giving special education students additional protections while placing more significant penalties on those committing the abuse. Legislation like this is essential to protect those most vulnerable. However, even though these laws take steps to protect students, litigation may still be required to ensure abusers are held accountable.
Experienced West Virginia Student Abuse Attorneys
Child abuse at school is a serious issue. If a school official abused your child while in their care (e.g., sexual abuse), it can be challenging to know what to do or whom to trust. To ensure that your child receives the justice they deserve, it is important that you hire an experienced student abuse attorney. An experienced West Virginia student abuse attorney understands the law to help you get the justice your child deserves. Salango Law school abuse attorneys are here to help when you need dedicated and skilled representation. To learn more or schedule your initial case consultation, call (304) 342-0512 or visit us on our website today.
HB 4600 & SB 261
Two bills were signed into law in March 2022. These two new laws are only the most recent additions to protections for students in special education programs.
SB 261 requires public school administrators to view at least 15 minutes of footage taken in special education classrooms every 90 days. SB 261’s requirements build on a 2019 law passed in West Virginia, which required schools to place cameras in special education classrooms.
HB 4600 is a bill to amend and reenact certain portions of the West Virginia legal code to impose felony penalties for assault, battery, and verbal abuse on those in a position of trust over children with special educational needs.
We will discuss why HB 4600 was introduced, how the new law changes the duties of teachers or other school personnel caring for children with additional needs, and the penalties they may face if they abuse the children in their care.
West Virginia Special Education Teacher And Aides Arrested And Charged For Student Abuse
In 2018, Amber Pack was worried that her daughter was being abused while in the care of her teachers. Her daughter Adri has autism and is nonverbal. Pack noticed that her daughter came home with bruises after being at school. To determine how those bruises occurred, Pack placed a recording device in her daughter’s hair to find out what was happening to her daughter while she was at school.
Pack listened to the recordings to hear her daughter’s teacher, Christina Lester, and aides June Yurish and Kristin Douty threaten to hit her in the face, knock her teeth out, and withhold food. After hearing these threats, Pack filed a civil lawsuit against the teacher and aides with the help of Salango Law’s own Ben Salango. In addition to the civil suit, her teacher and aides were arrested and charged with misdemeanor failure to report abuse or neglect.
The civil case has since been settled, with criminal charges for the teacher and aides still pending. As a result of this incident, West Virginia enacted legislation to place cameras in special education classrooms and give parents the right to view the footage on request.
Recently, another West Virginia special education teacher, Nancy Boggs, has been charged with ten counts of battery against students with special education needs, including hitting a student with a cabinet door, slamming a student’s head into a desk, and slapping a student. This special education teacher faces up to a year in jail and a $500 fine for each count of battery.
As a result of the recent instances of abuse, the West Virginia legislature passed HB 4600 and SB 261. HB 4600 makes it a felony for special education personnel to abuse students in their care. SB 261 requires school administrators to view footage from special education classrooms to identify and prevent abuse incidents.
Bringing A West Virginia School Abuse Claim To Court
Summons And Complaint
Summons and complaints are legal documents that describe the claims that you are bringing against the defendant or defendants. The complaint must at least include the parties involved, the claims you allege against those parties, basic information about how those claims occurred, and the remedy you seek from the court for those claims. A summons is a document that notifies the defendant that they are being sued. These documents must be properly served on the defendant to ensure they are aware of the suit. The defendant will have to “answer” or respond to the complaint with defenses to the claims or other requests.
Discovery is the court-supervised process of the parties gathering information to prove or defend against the claims made in the complaint. This process involves requests to the defendant using Requests for Admissions, Interrogatories, and document production requests. Interrogatories are written questions you ask the defendant to receive information helpful to your case. The defendant may respond or object to the questions asked. Admissions are statements that generally can be answered with a yes or no, which helps to limit the scope of information in dispute. You must also respond to the same type of discovery requests from the defense counsel. You may be required to participate in a deposition, which is a process where each party will ask those involved in the case questions to obtain information. These parties include the plaintiff and the defendant, witnesses, or others who are identified as having relevant information to the case.
Pretrial Motion Hearings
Pretrial motion hearings occur before the trial and address issues that may arise during the trial. These issues generally involve evidence and its admissibility or other issues that either party brings before the judge.
Depending on the case, some or all claims might not make it to court. Before going to trial, each party may agree to discharge their claims in exchange for some other kind of remedy, including cash payments or agreements to amend actions that caused the claims.
Final Pretrial Hearing
The trial judge will address final motions from both parties and set the matter for trial.
Voir Dire (Jury Selection)
In jury selection, attorneys for both sides interview potential jury members to evaluate them for placement on the final trial jury. The attorneys ask questions to determine if the individual should serve as a jury member. Each side my “strike” or remove a certain number of prospective jurors from the jury pool.
In some civil cases, there may not be a jury. While the constitution requires the right to a jury for criminal cases, the same does not apply to civil cases. If both parties choose not to request a jury, a judge will decide the case instead of a jury, called a bench trial.
The prosecution presents its opening statement first, followed by the defense. The presentations provide a “roadmap” for each party’s cases. The statements may include potential witness testimony, explanations of the law, and other similar issues.
The case-in-chief is your primary case. Your attorneys and the defense attorneys will present witnesses, evidence, and exhibits that they will use to prove their case to the jury. The plaintiff presents their case first, with the defense cross-examining or questioning the plaintiff’s witnesses; the same process occurs in reverse when the defense counsel presents their case-in-chief.
After you and the defense have finished presenting your cases, your attorneys present closing arguments. These statements are a final opportunity for each side’s attorneys to speak to the jury and convince them to find in their client’s favor.
If the trial is a jury trial, the judge gives the jury instructions after each party’s closing statement. Jury instructions are a statement of the law or rule that applies to the claims in the case presented to the jury to assist the jurors in reaching a verdict that follows the law.
The method of the decision will differ depending on the type of trial. If the trial is a jury trial, the jury adjourns to a private room to deliberate until a decision is reached. Once reached, the foreman will read the verdict in the courtroom. If a bench trial, the judge will draft an opinion that states the decision and reasoning for that decision.
If there are defects in the ruling made by the judge or the verdict from the jury, you may appeal the decision. An appeal requires that you identify why the decision was incorrect—usually in brief drafted by your attorney—and that you request action by the appeals court to correct the error.
Hiring A West Virginia School Abuse Attorney
If your child has been the victim of school abuse, it is important that you hire an experienced school abuse attorney to assist you. Salango Law’s experienced school abuse lawyers know the law and process to help your child receive the compensation and justice they deserve. To learn more or schedule your free consultation, call Salango Law at (304) 342-0512 or visit our website today.