Morrisey Investigating Civil Rights Violations
WHEELING — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey suspects special needs students across the state could be victims of civil rights violations, and he wants the public to speak out where there are such happenings.
Morrisey is investigating the case of a special needs student in Berkeley County who allegedly suffered abuse, threats and humiliation from teachers aides while in the classroom. The abuse came to light after the child’s mother placed a recording device in her daughter’s hair barrette, capturing evidence of conversations taking place while she was in their care.
After the case gained statewide attention, Morrisey said residents in other areas of the state began calling his office reporting they had witnessed similar situations happening elsewhere.
“There is definitely a number of calls complaints coming from the families of special needs kids that there have been problems in the schools,” Morrisey said. “We filed the civil rights action in Berkeley County against two teachers aides and a teacher because of allegations of abuse of these kids. It was in violation of the Civil Rights Act.
“We don’t have criminal authority in this area, but we do have civil rights authority. That means we can take actions to protect these kids. … We actually don’t have the authority to help kids who aren’t special needs kids under civil rights laws. It’s a little bit crazy, but that’s the way it operates.”
He said his office was able to act quickly in the Berkeley County case because evidence was immediately available.
His office became aware of the case only after reading newspaper accounts.
“If people believe there is a credible allegation of abuse, they should let us know so we can look into it,” Morrisey said. “Most teachers are doing great things for the kids, and there are positive experiences. We just have to make sure there is adequate training, and adequate supervision for special needs kids.
“These are non-verbal kids. They can’t articulate when something bad is happening. I want to make sure we do all we can to protect them.”
Morrisey encourages those with knowledge of civil rights violations against special needs students to contact his office at 304-558-202 and speak with Bob Leslie, director of the office’s civil rights unit.