‘Catch Me if You Can,’ Part 5
Two days after special-ed aide Carolina Gallardo reported James Doran’s physical manhandling of autistic children in his Forbuss Elementary classroom to Principal Shawn Forbuss, Doran — unfazed — was still at it.
On May 1, 2015, in front of visiting literacy coach Ana Sumison — who would make an immediate report to Paquette — Doran grabbed “a seated student with one hand by the back of the head [and] neck and with the other hand … squeezed the cheeks of the student, forcing his head to look up toward the ceiling. When Doran released the student, the student put his head down and cried,” says Sumison in a sworn deposition.
She also gave Paquette a written statement and told him the police needed to be called. When they came, Gallardo was also told to give police a written statement. She reported that Doran had done the exact same thing to the same student the very day before.
Paquette, with many higher-ups’ eyes upon him following his relaying of Gallardo’s report two days earlier, now also hastened to inform CCSD’s Employee-Management Relations division (“EMR”) of the latest report.
Court filings by some of the abused children’s parents, however, suggest Paquette’s sudden reporting to EMR of Doran’s rough treatment of his charges — already the subject of multiple complaints to Paquette — represented a distinct shift in the principal’s attitude.
Those court filings — in the federal case Hurd, et al v. Clark County School District, et al. — cite multiple witness depositions as evidence that a CCSD motion seeking dismissal of the lawsuit is without merit.
Some of those depositions are quite graphic.
The Yanked and Damaged Arm
On February 9, 2015 — 12 weeks before Gallardo, new to the classroom, had first reported Doran to Paquette — an autistic boy returned from recess with an injury to his arm. Later that same day his parents took him to a hospital. When he returned to school the following day, the arm was in a cast.
The parents asked Doran what had happened to their nonverbal son — a boy later designated, in the case, as plaintiff “S.S.” — but Doran would only say it had been a playground accident.
Principal Paquette, however, had received emails from school staffers who’d witnessed what had happened on the playground, say plaintiffs. Paquette then called in Doran and, in the presence of Assistant Principal Jerrell Hall, told him what staffers were saying — that Doran aide Heidi Carrasco had yanked the fourth-grader’s arm so aggressively it appeared to be broken.
According to plaintiffs, when Carrasco herself, in a later meeting with Paquette, Hall and Doran, admitted yanking the boy’s arm, Paquette simply told her she needed to take CCSD’s Crisis Prevention Institute (“CPI”) training.
Carrasco received no discipline from Paquette, say plaintiffs, nor was she written up. Nor — the parents’ lawyers say — did Paquette complete and submit a CCF-624 “aversive intervention” form.
Both state law and district regulations require completion of such forms whenever physical force and restraints are used on a special-needs child. The state law was passed in the wake of multiple shocking instances of CCSD physical abuse of autistic children that came to light in the 1990s.
CCSD’s regulations are required by the state law.
When deposed by parents’ attorneys, however, Paquette denied ever investigating the S.S. arm injury, contradicting both Doran and Carrasco. The principal also asserted that no one had ever alleged that the injury had happened at school.
“Because Paquette concealed this incident and his investigation,” states a plaintiffs’ response brief, “there is no documentation of Paquette’s investigation into S.S.’s injury, no 624 form was completed, S.S.’ parents were never advised of how the injury may have occurred, no employee was disciplined … EMR was never notified, no denial of rights determination was made, the Department of Education was not notified, law enforcement was not notified, and Doran witnessed firsthand that the physical abuse of special-needs children was tolerated.”
This allegation by plaintiffs — that, when a nonverbal autistic student was injured by school staff, Paquette successfully covered up the incident — would, months later in the lawsuit, gain added significance.
That was when CCSD officially admitted — before a federal magistrate judge — that it lacks any policy requiring principals to report such incidents to the district’s discipline arm, the Employee-Management Relations division.
Thus, the “covering up” of adults’ physical abuse of nonverbal autistic students appears — practically speaking — quiet close to a de facto CCSD policy. And that’s some 43 years after passage of the federal IDEA law, whose core purpose was to end school discrimination against children with disabilities.
CCSD’s admission not only supports the plaintiffs’ argument that, through its customs and practices, the district demonstrates “deliberate indifference” to the mistreatment of autistic children and thus should bear hefty financial liabilities.
It also will confirm the suspicions of many Southern Nevada parents.
Nevada Journal will go further into that issue in Part 6 of this series.
Teacher Amy Dinkelman
School-district lawyers have argued that the first time Paquette learned of Doran’s mistreatment of children in his classroom was April 29, 2015, when Carolina Gallardo came to him.
The parents’ lawyers, however, allege that prior to that date, teacher Amy Dinkelman and multiple others had reported Doran to Paquette for inappropriate physical contact with students.
Dinkelman had worked at Forbuss Elementary for four years — first as a resource specialist and then as a teacher — before later transferring to another school in the spring of 2015.
At Forbuss ES, she had been assigned to mentor Doran and reported directly to Paquette. Dinkelman also knew state law and CCSD regulations on aversive interventions.
Twice, standing in the front of the school, she had seen Doran grab autistic students by their arms or their backpacks and pull them into place, she said. Such grabbing and restraint — unless under genuine emergency conditions — is an illegal aversive intervention that, as such, supposedly requires completion of CCSD’s 624 report form.
Both times she observed it, Dinkelman testified in her sworn deposition, she told Doran such grabbing was inappropriate and also reported the incidents to Paquette, who told her he would handle it and speak to Doran.
Another time Dinkelman observed Doran walking down the hallway with his arm around the shoulders of autistic student L.M.V., restraining him. The boy’s parents would later bring suit against CCSD over Doran’s physical mistreatment of the youth.
Dinkelman observed Doran’s restraint of L.M.V. for around ten seconds, then with her school-issued iPad, photographed his behavior. Her sworn testimony was that she sent the image to Paquette by email, with an accompanying explanation. Her note also mentioned that the video surveillance system covering the school’s hallways would have recorded Doran’s behavior.
Paquette again told her, she testified, that he would handle the matter.
However, CCSD reports no records of Dinkelman’s emails to Paquette, nor documentation of any of Dinkelman’s complaints about Doran’s misconduct. Nor did L.M.V.’s parents ever receive any CCF-624 form for the incident, as mandated by state law.
Paquette, however, claims that no one ever had expressed a concern or complained about Doran’s conduct before April 29, 2015.
The Maynard reports
Brandy Maynard is the mother of B.P., one of the autistic children assigned to Doran’s classroom during the 2014/2015 school year.
Early in the school year, Forbuss Elementary notified Ms. Maynard that Doran was having trouble controlling her son, B.P. The boy had attended Forbuss every year since kindergarten and had not previously exhibited behavioral problems. Now, however, he told his mother that the new teacher was “mean” and often stated “I don’t like him.” After that, Maynard spoke to Paquette, Hall and another assistant principal.
One day when Maynard wanted to herself pick up her son at school, rather than have him put on the bus, she was approaching Doran and B.P. in front of the school. She then saw Doran aggressively grab B.P. by his sweatshirt and restrain him, while speaking harshly.
Upset at seeing an adult treat her son that way with no contextual justification, she vocally confronted Doran. According to Maynard’s deposition, that vocal confrontation caused Assistant Principal Jerrell Hall to approach, whereupon she told him of Doran’s needlessly harsh treatment of her son.
Approximately four to six weeks after Maynard had confronted Doran over his treatment of B.P. before the school, she observed bruises on B.P.’s upper arm that looked like finger marks. When asked, B.P. responded that it was where Doran had grabbed him.
Maynard says she reported this to two Forbuss assistant principals who told her they would investigate.
She also spoke to Paquette directly about the bruising, she testified in her deposition, telling him as well of the earlier Doran grabbing incident she’d witnessed and protested.
Thus, within the first 90 days of the school year, Maynard had complained to Forbuss administrators about Doran and insisted he had no place in an autism classroom.
Maynard says that the Forbuss ES administrators repeatedly made promises that they did not fulfill, and seemed to quietly view the situation with nonchalance. So Maynard says she informed them she had photographs of the injuries to B.P. and would take them to a television news station if something wasn’t done. At that point, the administrators apologized and promised to find a new placement for B.P.
They did not, however, so Maynard began keeping B.P. home and communicating directly with the special-education division at CCSD’s central offices. Eventually the boy was transferred out of Doran’s classroom to a new school — after which B.P. had no further behavioral problems, according to Maynard.
According to the plaintiffs’ lawsuit, Forbuss Elementary never sent Maynard, as required by state law, any CCF-624 form or any other notice of the physical restraint she herself had witnessed and reported.
Nor has CCSD produced for plaintiffs any records of any Maynard complaints about Doran’s physical misconduct involving B.P. No investigation ever took place, nor, according to Doran, did Paquette ever discuss Maynard’s complaints with him.
Independent behaviorist Roo Abdel-Al, who on occasion worked with a client at Forbuss Elementary, testified that as far back as October 13, 2014 she’d witnessed Doran imposinginappropriate aversive restraints.
Within five minutes of entering a hallway at Forbuss Elementary, she saw Doran ordering student M.H. to stop her hand-flapping. When the autistic girl did not comply, said Abdel-Al, Doran grabbed the girl’s wrists, pushed her up against the hallway wall with force, held her arms against the wall above her head, pointed his finger at her and then made the girl sit on the floor.
Michael Hollis, a “floater” aide who worked intermittently in Doran’s classroom over a four-month period, says he observed Doran place his hands on children on a daily basis — grabbing the students and forcing them to do what he wanted.
Likewise, says Hollis, Doran’s regular classroom aides would complain to him about the ongoing abuse of the children. He also testified that Doran was aggressive with students in the hallways between classes and coming back from lunch.
When Doran saw M.H.’s “stimming,” said Hollis, Doran would grab her and slam her into her chair, and at other times, grab her by the hair.
On the day of S.S.’s arm injury, Hollis reports, Doran grabbed the boy’s arm, making him cry out. S.S. was then taken to the school nurse and did not return to class that day. The next time Hollis saw S.S., a few days later, the boy’s arm was in a sling.
According to Hollis, he also frequently observed Doran shove S.S. into his chair and restrain the boy. He also reports Doran grabbing L.M.V. from under the boy’s desk, with L.M.V. crying, yelling and in apparent pain, as Doran dragged him out and positioned him elsewhere.
CCSD’s lawyers, in recent briefs, have called Hollis a “disgruntled former employee” and sought repeatedly to undermine his credibility.
Their intense pursuit of that goal can be assessed from some of the back-and-forth during his deposition:
Q. Is there a reason you didn’t go to your supervisors to tell them about all of this happening in the classroom in the 2014-2015 school year?
A. I mentioned to Ms. Dinkelman that he was overly aggressive with the children.
[Amy Dinkelman was, until leaving Forbuss ES in the spring of 2015, supervisor for both Doran and Hollis.]
“That nonchalant response,” continues the CCSD brief, “serves as a fair indicator that Mr. Hollis did not believe that he witnessed abuse.”
However, the rest of that deposition reveals CCSD’s own preoccupation with undermining the Hollis testimony:
Q. Okay. Why didn’t you report that to your supervisor?
A. I did. I reported it to Ms. Dinkelman.
Q. Okay. But you didn’t report it to your actual supervisor; correct?
A. I reported it to Ms. Dinkelman.
Q. It’s a yes or no question.
A. I reported it —
Q. You did not report it to your supervisor; correct?
A. I reported it to Ms. Dinkelman, who was my —
At this point, the deposition filed with the court by CCSD’s lawyers ends.
So was Amy Dinkelman the actual supervisor for Hollis? Here is a relevant section of her deposition:
Q. Do you recall a gentleman by the name of Michael Hollis?
Q. Okay. Did you work with Mr. Hollis?
Q. Was he an aide?
A. He was a floater assigned to one of my students.
Q. Were you his supervisor at the school?
So, score one for the plaintiffs? Perhaps. On the other hand, however, Dinkelman — three years later — can’t confirm Hollis’ memory:
Q. Did he ever come to you with concerns about Doran that you recall?
A. Not that I can remember.
Reprise of the 1990s
The parents’ attorneys, citing a Doran deposition, report that he frequently held the hand of autistic student S.S. and forced him to run “to get his energy out.” This was the very practice CCSD had been using in the 1990s to exhaust students with disabilities, before state lawmakers in 1999 specifically banned it and other “aversive interventions” as a response to disability-related behaviors.
However, according to Doran, Paquette had expressly authorized him to “take S.S. by the hand and run him.”
NRS 388.473 specifically prohibits “Requiring a person to perform exercise under forced conditions if the … (a) Person is required to perform the exercise because he or she exhibited a behavior that is related to his or her disability.”
The depositions taken in the Hurd et al v CCSD lawsuit to this point, suggest the lawsuit may well be the most challenging threat to special-ed business-as-usual that CCSD has ever faced.
In Part 6 of this series, Nevada Journal turns to the reasons for that assessment.