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CCSD investigation has become a cover-up

Updated December 14, 2018 - 12:30 am

When the Clark County School District needed to cover up misconduct by its top officials, it turned to an unusual tool: an independent investigator.

That’s what documents obtained via public records requests suggest.

In May, I broke the news that two students had accused their teacher, Jason Wright, of physically assaulting them in separate incidents. But despite being credibly accused of kicking a child and hitting a student with a desk he threw, Wright remained in the classroom. That alone would have been a scandal worthy of investigation.

Wright, however, is the husband of School Board President Deanna Wright. Did he get special treatment? There’s overwhelming evidence he did.

As I revealed earlier this year, the district’s HR department had originally recommended that Jason Wright not be allowed into an alternative licensure program. But then-Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky overruled the decision.

Then I reported that Kim Wooden, the second-highest-ranking person in the district, attended Jason Wright’s disciplinary hearing. Her presence sent a clear message: Jason Wright has powerful allies. Tread carefully.

As the pressure built, the district announced in May it would hire attorney Robert Freeman to conduct an independent investigation into Jason Wright’s hiring.

Six months later, you’re paying Freeman’s bills, but you can’t see his findings — if there are any. Asked for reports produced by Freeman, Cindy Smith-Johnson, who works on public records for the district, said there were “no public records responsive” to that request.

The billing records reveal the slow pace of this probe. District trustees authorized Freeman to charge rates between $75 and $190 an hour. Freeman billed the district $2,926 for work done through June but less than $500 for work done in July and August. In September, he charged $1,159 for a total of just more than $5,000. This implies that Freeman and his associates have spent between 27 and 67 hours on this case — over four months. That’s stalling, not investigating.

All of the people involved work or worked for the same employer. If the superintendent so ordered, the district could have turned over any pertinent records immediately. This could have been resolved in days. Either Freeman is a lousy investigator or district power brokers don’t really want the answers. They have a strong incentive to embrace the latter because Review-Journal investigations have already turned up plenty of evidence of wrongdoing.

The district’s contract with Freeman mandates that he include a “description of services” on his billing statements. The district refused to provide those details, citing attorney-client privilege.

As district leaders cover up their own misdeeds, they’re preparing to demand more money from politicians in Carson City. But how they’ve handled this fiasco and their resistance to accountability hardly inspires confidence in their ability to responsibly oversee millions more in taxpayer contributions.

Asked if the district was stalling the investigation to protect Deanna Wright, Smith-Johnson wrote, “We have no further comment.”

The district doesn’t need to say anything. Six months of silence speaks loudly enough.

Contact Victor Joecks at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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