A Department of Health and Human Services report analyzing state oversight at the now-shuttered Northwest Academy found that agencies did not follow proper protocol — if there was any protocol at all — in communicating issues at the private boarding school.
The report was completed in May following a Las Vegas Review-Journal investigation into the Amargosa Valley school, where allegations of abuse and neglect began to surface as early as 2014. It found that agencies did not have internal policies regarding how to notify other agencies that also oversaw the school.
“If agencies do have those policies, they are not well documented and were followed sporadically or incompletely in the case of Northwest Academy,” the report states.
The department’s analysis echoed much of the Review-Journal’s findings in the four-part series “Deserted in the Desert,” which uncovered a multi-agency failure that allowed allegations of abuse and neglect to continue for years at the facility. The issues culminated in the school’s closure in February following the arrests of its married owners, Marcel and Patricia Chappuis, and a staff member.
The Department of Health and Human Services licenses the school as a child care facility through its Division of Public and Behavioral Health and was responsible for investigating claims of abuse through its Division of Child and Family Services.
Other agencies that oversaw Northwest Academy included the Nevada Department of Education, which licensed Northwest Academy as a private school, and the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection, which monitored the school’s compliance as a public water operator.
Years of complaints
The report found that multiple complaints were not forwarded to the child care licensing division, which in turn also failed to notify the state Department of Education of substantiated complaints.
In September 2014, a sexual abuse complaint was filed with the Division of Child and Family Services of one student molesting another. The report found no record that the licensing division was notified.
In March 2015, another complaint was filed with family services regarding insufficient food for students. There was no record of that reaching the licensing division, either, according to the analysis.
Over the eight years that the school was operating, the licensing division repeatedly issued the facility provisional licenses due to deficiencies in the school’s operations, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Since 2012, the analysis found, the school had not held a full license for an entire year.
Statements of deficiency — which the department issues when a child care facility is out of compliance — were also frequently not completed and sent in a timely manner.
The report calls for a policy that would require the family services division to notify the licensing division of any report of abuse or neglect. It also suggests that each agency be required to notify the other when concerns or licensing issues occur.
In its own review earlier this year, the Department of Education found that the school did not submit a financial statement in its 2017 private school license renewal application. The school also only submitted projected budgets for the first two years of its four-year renewal.
After inquiries from the Review-Journal in April, the department said it would institute internal controls to ensure that all private schools are meeting requirements for applying for or renewing a license. The department said its private school division would immediately audit 68 of the 131 private school licenses left to review.
Meanwhile, the Nye County district attorney’s office has yet to file formal charges against Marcel and Patricia Chappuis more than five months after their arrests. They each face 43 counts of allowing child neglect.
As of Wednesday, the couple’s arraignment hearings, originally scheduled for March 4, had been postponed five times in Beatty Justice Court pending the formal charges.
District Attorney Chris Arabia had not publicly discussed the status of the case until last week, when his office emailed a brief statement to news media.
“I understand that the community is concerned and wants answers,” the statement said. “This is a complex matter, and it’s taking time to complete our review. I ask for the community’s patience and will update everyone at the appropriate time.”
The couple previously were represented by attorney Malcolm LaVergne but switched counsel in June. They now are represented by Pahrump attorney Thomas Gibson.
On Tuesday, William Simpson, an investigator for Gibson’s law firm, expressed confidence that the charges would be dismissed.
The Review-Journal investigation found that the school, which operated a public water system, went for years without treating its water as the owners were repeatedly put on notice to comply with state law.
The series also uncovered ties that Northwest Academy and its predecessor, Horizon Academy, had to a network of schools that catered to troubled teens. That organization, the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools, was hit with multiple lawsuits alleging abuse at its various facilities.
Marcel and Patricia Chappuis were arrested in February amid an ongoing abuse investigation at the school, which served at-risk youth. Most of the charges center around contaminated water at the academy.
Patricia Chappuis also faces two felony counts of child abuse stemming from a July 20, 2017, incident, which originally was investigated by the Nye County Sheriff’s Office.
Their arrests followed the arrest of employee Caleb Hill on suspicion of child abuse.
An arraignment is scheduled for Aug. 19.
Contact Amelia Pak-Harvey at email@example.com or 702-383-4630. Follow @AmeliaPakHarvey on Twitter. Contact Rio Lacanlale at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0381. Follow @riolacanlale on Twitter