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$10M settlement approved for autistic student abused by CCSD teacher

A federal judge has approved a nearly $10 million settlement for a special needs student abused by his teacher at a Las Vegas elementary school.

The Clark County School District agreed to pay $9.95 million to the unidentified boy who attended Harmon Elementary School between 2016 and 2018, court records show.

The lawsuit’s claims included assault, battery, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional stress. The award includes legal fees. More than half the amount will be put in a trust for the student.

The boy, who has severe autism and is nonverbal, has not been identified in court documents other than by the initials “J.W.” and “J.J.” because he’s a minor. He was 6 years old when the suit was filed in 2019.

“After years of litigation, the family is grateful that the legal aspect of this matter is now at an end,” Gregg Hubley of Arias Sanguinetti law firm wrote in a statement. “The trauma and pain that J.W. and his parents had to endure, not just from the abuse but from the foot dragging by the school district will last for years to come, however. We hope the district will put a plan in place so that this harm never comes to another family ever again.”

The abuse began after the boy’s first teacher died in 2017, and other aides filled in, including Melody Carter, who became his official teacher, according to the lawsuit.

During the 2017 spring semester, the child’s parents, Joshua and Britten Wahrer, began to notice that the boy became irritable and that his diaper wasn’t being changed.

“J.J. was often filthy dirty … when he was picked up from school by his parents, and it was clear that he was not being educated in a safe or sanitary place,” the complaint said.

He “became more aggressive” and started trying to escape his classroom, the complaint said.

He was being “denied” the lunch and water his parents sent him to school with, the complaint said. The principal and district administrators minimized their concerns.

After the boy was assigned Carter, he began showing up at home with bruises on his legs and stomach, the complaint said.

School officials would say that he had injured himself, the complaint said.

A substitute teacher’s aide the next year reported seeing Carter hit the student with a pointer stick so hard that it broke, the complaint said. The school district concealed the extent of the abuse to his parents.

The complaint alleged that the school district hadn’t properly investigated other instances of physical abuse.

Carter was charged weeks later with felony child abuse, which was later reduced to a misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct, and then dismissed after she completed anger management counseling.

Carter, who was not disciplined, according to the complaint, left the school district in 2018. The victim transferred schools.

The lawsuit said the abuse left him with lasting behavioral repercussions, such as anxiety and not being able to sleep through the night.

U.S. District Judge Richard Boulware signed the order Thursday. The school district did not immediately respond Monday to a message seeking comment.

“I’m proud our firm once again stood for justice on behalf of a family that had no place else to turn,” wrote attorney Mike Arias in the statement. “This child never should have been subjected to any form of abuse, and this family should not have had to jump through so many hoops to get the answers they deserved.”

Contact Ricardo Torres-Cortez at rtorres@reviewjournal.com.

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