The parents of three Thiriot Elementary School special needs students who allege their children were physically, emotionally and verbally abused by Special Education teacher Shane Butuyan and classroom aide Ana Escamilla have filed a civil rights lawsuit against school administrators and the Clark County School District for failing to protect their children while in their care and intentionally concealing the abuse from parents. Plaintiffs are represented in the matter by attorneys Rahul Ravipudi, Ian Samson and Adam Ellis of Panish Shea & Boyle LLP and Khaldoun Baghdadi and Valerie Rose of Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger.
The minor Plaintiffs are third grade Special Education students, K.H. (age 8), A.K. (age 9), and K.G (age 8), who were enrolled at Thiriot Elementary School (TES) during the 2019-2020 school year. Because of their disabilities, the Plaintiffs and their classmates are functionally non-verbal, which means they have difficulty communicating. Defendant Butuyan was employed as a Special Education Teacher with the Clark County School District (CCSD) for two years – teaching at Von Tobel Middle School during the 2018-2019 school year before being moved to TES. Defendant Ana Escamilla has been with the District for 15 years and continues to work for CCSD as a special education classroom aide.
As alleged in the complaint, Plaintiff K.H.’s mother, Unique Barnett, began reporting misconduct to school officials in early August 2019 after observing Defendant Escamilla being verbally aggressive with students in the class. Barnett again reported Escamilla’s misconduct a few weeks later after K.H.’s grandmother and a bus driver observed Escamilla grab K.H. by the arm and drag the 8-year-old boy across the campus while he cried and ran to prevent himself from falling.
It wasn’t until September 2019, when Barnett was contacted by Child Protective Services (CPS), that she learned of an ongoing investigation involving allegations that K.H. and other special education students in Butuyan and Escamilla’s classroom were being physically abused by school staff. A visiting CCSD instructional interventionist, who was asked to observe Butuyan’s class, reported to TES administrators that students were referring to a yard stick in the classroom as a “Palo Palo” – a Filipino term for spanking.
During interviews conducted by CPS and Clark County School District Police, Plaintiffs K.H., A.K. and K.G., as well as other students, told investigators that Butuyan repeatedly struck them on their hands and bodies with a long, wooden yard stick he called “Palo Palo”. The children reported that Butuyan used the yardstick to poke and strike them, as well as their desks and chairs, to get them to pay attention. The students also stated their teacher told them the “Palo Palo” was a secret and to not tell their parents.
Butuyan admitted to telling the students that “the “Palo Palo” was a “magic wand” that would convey powers upon the students, but if they told their parents about the “Palo Palo,” they would “lose their powers.”
It was only after the initiation of the CPS investigation that Butuyan was removed from TES. Neither CCSD, CCSDPD, Principal Holdstrom nor Assistant Principal Mechem notified Plaintiffs’ parents that their minor children had been subjected to abuse, or identified as a victim, in the ongoing investigation.
Due to their disabilities, K.H., A.K. and K.G are unable to verbally report all that they experienced while under Defendants’ care, and the full extent and duration of the abuse suffered by these minor Plaintiffs is currently unknown. The effects of the abuse, however, are evident to their families who describe significant changes in their children including, but not limited to, frequent nightmares, difficulty sleeping, crying often, becoming increasingly quiet, emotional, sad, withdrawn, or aggressive with siblings, refusing to go to school and responding to simple reprimands by crying hysterically.
Despite CCSD’s regulations requiring each of these incidents to be documented by a CCF-624 form, Plaintiffs allege in their complaint that the District failed to notify the parents of student victims, failed to make the required violation of rights determinations, failed to discipline or retrain Butuyan and Escamilla, failed to notify the Department of Education as required, and failed to discipline TES administrators Holdsworth and Mechem for their mishandling of the reported incidents.
Public records obtained by the families’ attorneys confirm that CCSD claimed in its statutorily required report to the State of Nevada Department of Education that at Thiriot Elementary School during the 2019-2020 school year, no staff used any aversive interventions or physical or mechanical restraint and no student’s rights were violated.
Plaintiffs’ demand a trial by jury and seek the following claims for relief: Violation of the American with Disabilities Act, Violation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Battery, Criminal Violations Motivated by Characteristics of Victim, Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, Negligence as well as Negligent Supervision, and Enhanced Damages for Injury or Loss Suffered by a Vulnerable Person.