Thousands of records examined by the Las Vegas Review-Journal show a yearslong history of abuse and neglect allegations at Northwest Academy, a private boarding school for at-risk youth.
Yet divisions within the Department of Health and Human Services, which licensed the Amargosa Valley school as a child-care institution and were responsible for investigating the abuse claims, found many of them to be unsubstantiated.
Even when problems with the school were validated, documents show that little if any action was taken to hold the school accountable.
Allegations also often fell by the wayside without clear communication between other state agencies that could have had a hand in shutting down the school, records show.
Unaware of the complaints, the Department of Education continued to renew Northwest Academy’s license as a private school.
… Most of the charges center around contaminated water at the academy, Nevada’s only private boarding school, when it closed in February.
… The investigation also revealed ongoing issues with the school’s water, which had levels of arsenic and fluoride that exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s recommendations.
… The private boarding school stopped treating its water in October 2016, leading to levels of arsenic and fluoride that exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s recommendations. Records also show that the Amargosa Valley school racked up dozens of violations dating back to at least 2016.
… As early as 2008, when the school was operating as Horizon Academy, it received a notice of alleged violation for failing to monitor arsenic levels in its water throughout 2007.
The rest of the school’s water history is littered with numerous violations.
At their highest, arsenic levels in the school’s water sat at 0.104 milligrams per liter, well above the EPA’s recommended 0.01 milligrams per liter. The school’s fluoride levels measured 3.8 milligrams per liter, surpassing the EPA’s standard of 2.0 milligrams per liter.
And when the school was potentially on track to fix such issues, the owners showed both a reluctance and inability to pay for repairs needed.
… Although arsenic and fluoride are naturally occurring contaminants, they can have side effects, said Jacimaria Batista, a UNLV professor who specializes in water and wastewater treatment.
Excess fluoride will cause deteriorated teeth, while arsenic poisoning takes time, she said.
Despite the documented history of the school’s water violations, Malcolm LaVergne, the owners’ attorney, said the case against his clients only dates back to February 2018. And he argued that the couple had been working to get their system into compliance.
February 2018 was the second time the school was put on formal notice for elevated levels of arsenic and fluoride. This time, the division placed the school on a bottled water restriction for both drinking and cooking…