WV passes special needs legislation following classroom abuse cases.
A $5 million settlement has been awarded to the families of four nonverbal special education students in West Virginia. The settlement comes in the aftermath of the families alleging abuse in the classroom and suing the county school system in Charleston. An open records request to the Board of Risk and Insurance Management shows the settlement stemmed from a lawsuit against Horace Mann Middle School, specifically. The families had filed a lawsuit against the school last year accusing three employees – a teacher, Anthony Wilson (45), along with two teacher’s aides, Walter Pannel (71) and Lillian Barnham (65) – of abusive behavior.
The settlement comes on the heels of an eerily similar case that concluded earlier this month in the state where a judge sentenced Nancy Bogg, 67, now a former teacher at Hols Elementary school, to a decade in prison for ten counts of battery against three students with special needs. On August 3rd, a Kanawha County Circuit Court judge found her guilty, and doled out the maximum possible sentence.
“You turned your classroom into a place of what can only be described as torture,” the Democratic judge in that case, Maryclaire Akers said. “I sincerely wish I could give you more.” Though Boggs had pled guilty, Aykers found the descriptions of the case that were originally presented to the court to be “sterile.” Judge Aykers felt it pertinent to show the court each instance of abuse as it happened, which was all captured by surveillance cameras.
In the Horace Mann Middle School case, a 4th staff member, Ray Lynch, also pleaded guilty to abuse earlier this year. He was charged on seven counts of misdemeanor battery and pleaded guilty to two of these counts.
These two cases have set a brand-new precedent for the law in West Virginia. Penalties have increased for abuse in schools, and it is now a felony for a teacher to abuse a student with special needs. The state legislature passed two bills (SB 261 and HB400) to mandate these laws earlier in 2022 and passing both bills unanimously. Drafted with input from the parents of students that allegedly faced abuse at the hands of their teachers, the legislation was personal, and it was a big win for those families impacted. Another stipulation requires that a public-school administrator review at least 15 minutes of footage from each special education classroom every 90 days.
“We all know that the special ed classes are taught by and have aides that are for the most part the greatest of the great, but we cannot afford one mistake, that’s all there is to it,” West Virginia Governor Jim Justice said. “We’ve really stiffened it up and made it really tougher. Hopefully that will get the word across that we just can’t have that ever happen. There’s been horrific acts in regards to our special needs kids. These are our gifts and they’ve been sent from God to us, and they need our protection.”