West Virginia AG launches suit against teacher aides accused of mistreatment

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BERKELEY COUNTY, W.Va. (WHSV) — UPDATE (Feb. 19):

The West Virginia Attorney General's Office is now investigating allegations that teachers' aides mistreated children in a special education classroom.

Amber Pack, mother of a child at Berkeley Heights Elementary School, hid a recording device on her daughter after hearing her child say she didn't want to go back to school.

The recording that came back shocked her, picking up the adults telling students things like "I'm going to pull your hair until you start crying," "I am gonna beat your butt for sure and Owen, you're gonna get one just just cause," and "I ought to backhand you right in your teeth. How is that for anxiety?"

She told news outlets that she took the recording to the school district in the fall, but, when nothing seemed to happen, posted it on Facebook in November.

An investigation by the school district was followed by a Civil Rights Office of the U.S. Department of Education investigation, and Berkeley County scheduled a special meeting to accept the resignations of those involved earlier this month.

They had previously been placed on administrative leave.

The Berkeley County Prosecutor's Office found no criminal wrongdoing, but County Prosecutor Catie Wilkes Delligatti told parents, “I am not in any way condoning the verbal treatment of your children by the individuals in the classroom."

Now, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is seeking the enforcement of the state's Human Rights Act, alleging that the three adults are guilty of verbally assaulting two nonverbal autistic children.

"No student should suffer the verbal assault endured by these students,” Attorney General Morrisey said. “Our office will use every ounce of its authority to protect children from abuse, especially from adults placed in a position of trust. We may have limited criminal authority, but this filing demonstrates our commitment to use civil tools to bring proven wrongdoers to justice.”

Morrisey identified the aides accused: Christina Lester, June Yurish and Kristin Douty.

The state's case says each threatened students with physical violence, as captured on Pack's recording.

It requests a court order that the three violated the Human Rights Act, seeks a $5,000 civil penalty for each violation, and asks for all three to be blocked from holding a position, paid or volunteer, in which they supervise or provide care to children.

It also seeks to have them blocked from ever having any contact with the children from that classroom, or their family members, again.

The investigation remains ongoing. You can read the civil complaint in full here.

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UPDATE (Feb. 13);

A West Virginia school district has scheduled a special meeting to accept the resignations of two teachers' aides following allegations they mistreated a nonverbal, autistic child.

The Journal reports that Berkeley County Schools posted notice on Monday of Thursday's meeting.

The child's mother, Amber Pack, said she put a recording device in the girl's hair before sending her to school and in a clip she posted on social media, an adult can be heard telling the child that she's going to punch her in the face and another tells the girl to "shut up."

Berkeley County Schools said the employees involved were placed on administrative leave after the incident was reported in the fall. The teacher resigned shortly afterward and the aides' resignations will be effective Thursday.

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Outrage is growing in a West Virginia community after a mother sent her child to school with a hidden recording device that picked up disturbing comments from instructors in a special education classroom.

According to a WJLA investigation, mother Amber Pack sent her 8-year-old daughter to Berkeley Heights Elementary School in Martinsburg, West Virginia with a recording device because she had said she didn't want to go back to school.

In just one day of recording, the device picked up instructors telling students things like "I'm going to pull your hair until you start crying," "I am gonna beat your butt for sure and Owen, you're gonna get one just just cause," and "I ought to backhand you right in your teeth. How is that for anxiety?"

At times, the recordings are of the instructors singing songs and reading stories to students, but at other times, they're telling students "How your tears dried up so quickly, crocodile" or "I'm a knock you out" or "You're like a pygmy. You're like a pygmy thing."

Pack told WJLA that she alerted the school district and the Martinsburg Police Department, but other parents of children in the same class never heard from the principal or the superintendent.

Kasey Murphy, whose six-year-old son, Owen, is targeted in some of the recordings, said there was a parent-teacher conference in the time since the recording was handed over to the school, but no one said anything.

The Berkeley County Prosecutor's Office found no criminal wrongdoing, but County Prosecutor Catie Wilkes Delligatti told parents, “I am not in any way condoning the verbal treatment of your children by the individuals in the classroom."

It wasn't until November after Pack posted a clip of the recording on Facebook that others became aware.

Now, the school district is investigating, all three instructors of the class are on leave, and the Civil Rights Office of the U.S. Department of Education has opened its own investigation.

One instructor was reached by media and said she had no comment.

Pack and Murphy moved their children to other schools.

You can find the original story and more of the recordings in the original report at WJLA.com.