By MATT WARD
Nye County Sheriff’s deputies were made aware of alleged abuse at Floyd Elementary School on Oct. 22 after a whistleblower reported witnessing a teacher strike two disabled students, according to a court record filed in the case and made available to the Pahrump Valley Times.
The whistleblower told an NCSO deputy that a “Mrs. Hopkins” flicked two children in the face, “grabbed,” “hit,” and “shook violently” the disabled students for not following instructions, according to a search warrant affidavit filed in Fifth Judicial District Court.
NCSO Det. David Boruchowitz filed the affidavit on Nov. 22, according to the search warrant.
According to the warrant, the whistleblower is no longer employed with the school district, having left to get “out of this situation,” the affidavit states.
A review of two other search warrant affidavits as well as a declaration of arrest filed in the case provide a much clearer picture of the case police have built against four Floyd Elementary School educators who were arrested last week. Holly Lepisto, the principal at Floyd, special education teacher Sarah Hopkins, and special education aides Kathryn Cummings and Phyllis DuShane were arrested on Nov. 23 and charged with five counts of child abuse each as well as with one count of conspiracy to commit a crime.
The educators are suspended, along with a fifth aide, from their jobs at the school district pending an internal investigation. All are free on $100,000 bail.
Nye County Sheriff’s deputies executed a number of search warrants at Floyd Elementary as well as with the school district’s local offices. The court records include information about specific allegations against the four educators who were arrested, including the names of alleged victims and parents, specific incidents, the names of witnesses against them and records that appear to support the charges filed against the four women. Police also seized the records of at least two victimized students. These records included IEPs, discipline history, therapy protocols and related school documents.
The PVT is not releasing the names of the alleged victims. Parents of the victims will be identified only if they agree to comment for future stories about the arrests. The PVT is also withholding the whistleblower’s identity.
According to a search warrant affidavit filed in Justice Court on Nov. 29 and signed by Justice of the Peace Tina Brisebill, NCSO detectives seized the personnel records for DuShane, Cummings, Lepisto, Hopkins as well as for previously unnamed school district employees Tracy Visconti and Amy Johnson.
In the affidavit attached to the warrant, the detective writes that through his investigation he identified four victims of abuse who are students in Hopkins’ Floyd Elementary class. The children, he writes, were subjected to “spankings, flicking, pushing, slapping, violent shaking and grabbing.” The students suffered from a variety of physical disabilities, including visual impairment, mental challenges, cerebral palsy and autism. The detective describes interviews he conducted in the case, including an interview with an unnamed aide who says that on one occasion they “witnessed Hopkins grab (name withheld)’s hand and make (sex withheld) punch self in the mouth several times as a punishment.”
According to the sworn statement, three aides went to Lepisto and filed complaints about the incident. One aide told police that Lepisto said “this was a special class and this is how things were handled there.” In the statement, Boruchowitz also describes his interviews with DuShane, Cummings and Hopkins. He says their information was “deceptive and contradictory.” Also, he says the women “admitted to the allegations in a round about fashion.”
According to the affidavit, Hopkins told Lepisto of “spanking” the children, and that the principal urged the teacher to be careful of perceptions. An interview of one of the victim’s parents, according to the sworn statement, revealed that the parent did not give Hopkins or anyone at the school district permission to punish the student.
According to the detective’s sworn statement, he interviewed a 6-year-old who is in Hopkins’s class. The child told the detective that while other students participate in a disciplinary routine involving cards when they misbehave, another student is “spanked” or “snapped” when they misbehave.
Boruchowitz also interviewed “ a director of Special Education” at the school who revealed that he’d referred an occupational therapist to Lepisto when the therapist complained about the treatment of students in Hopkins’ class, according to the statement. Contacted later, Boruchowitz writes that the therapist reported incidents multiple times to the school district that went unheeded.
Hopkins said that she was following accepted practices, according to the detective’s description of his interview with her. The detective reveals in the affidavit that a “letter of expectation” exists that Hopkins made available to all her new classroom aides. In the letter, according to the sworn statement, Hopkins advises that if the aides have any problems with the level of physical contact between them and the students, they should “report it to her.” Boruchowitz says in his statement that he believes this was done to keep “the circle of people that knew as small as possible.”
The affidavit also records that Floyd Elementary guidance counselor Kathy Gailey was provided a copy of this letter.
A third search warrant filed in Brisebill’s court on Nov. 29 seeks records provided to Gailey as well as all video surveillance taken from the interior and exterior of the school. The information in the affidavit attached to the warrant was similar in nature to the previous warrant.
A declaration of arrest provided the PVT on Wednesday reveals the same information as the warrant affidavits.
A criminal complaint is expected to be filed Thursday by District Attorney Brian Kunzi.
A number of local educators and parents of Floyd Elementary students have expressed shock and doubt about the allegations against Lepisto, Hopkins, DuShane and Cummings.
More information about this case and the investigation leading up to the arrest of Lepisto, Hopkins, DuShane and Cummings will be in Friday’s PVT.