Nye County authorities on Tuesday arrested the principal, a special education teacher and two classroom aides on charges of child abuse involving special needs children at a Pahrump elementary school.
Floyd Elementary School Principal Holly Lepisto was arrested during school hours and taken from the southern Pahrump campus in handcuffs. Teacher Sarah Hopkins, 52, and aides Phyllis DuShane, 73, and Katherine Cummings, 56, were arrested at their homes.
All face five counts of child abuse and one count of conspiracy to commit a crime.
All were in custody Tuesday evening with bail set at $35,000 each.
According to the Nye County sheriff's office, Lepisto, 53, failed to report abuses to police or family services and did an "extremely poor investigation" after being made aware of abuse accusations in her school.
"Further investigation revealed that Lepisto may have given school employees the impression that this behavior was accepted," a sheriff's office news release said.
Nye County Sheriff Tony DeMeo would not elaborate on how the principal might have given that impression.
The sheriff's office classified the abuse as "unreasonable physical punishment" in the classroom that had been happening for at least two years.
DeMeo said the abuse was not critical enough to require hospitalization. He did not reveal further details on the crimes but said more arrests could follow.
Nye County School District Superintendent Rob Roberts said one teacher and three classroom aides at the school have been suspended with pay while the district conducts an investigation. Lepisto also will be suspended, Roberts said.
Roberts would not identify the other employees or talk about the allegations against them. He said suspensions were made based on information from the sheriff's office and could not say whether the fifth employee would be arrested.
"This is a personnel matter. By law I can't discuss the details of the incident," Roberts said.
Parents of special education students were contacted Monday night by Lepisto and were told their children might need to stay home Tuesday because only substitutes would be teaching, one parent said.
Gary Loyko, who has a 6-year-old son in Hopkins' class, said the principal did not explain why the teacher and aides would be absent.
"I heard it was allegations of child abuse. A detective who called me today asked if they've (the teachers) ever spanked him, slapped him in the face or flicked him in the ear," Loyko said. "That's flat-out ridiculous. These people walk on water as far as I'm concerned."
Loyko said his family has gotten to know their son's teachers well in recent years and can't believe the allegations. He said Hopkins, in particular, has been a special education teacher since 1998 and became a teacher because of a close family member's disability.
"These are awesome people. They probably love my son as much as I do," Loyko said.
DeMeo said the students have varying degrees of physical and mental impairments that might have prevented them from reporting what happened to them.
"These kids were unable to divulge to their parents or anyone else what went on," the sheriff said.
Pahrump, 60 miles west of Las Vegas, is Nye County's largest town with a population of about 38,000 people.
Floyd Elementary opened in 2008 and serves about 380 students in kindergarten through fifth grade.
Matt Ward and Gina B. Good of the Pahrump Valley Times contributed to this report. Contact reporter Henry Brean at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0350. Contact reporter Lawrence Mower at email@example.com or 702-383-0440.