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Disability Law Center files lawsuits against Alpine School District on behalf of disabled students who suffered alleged abuse

The Disability Law Center, based in Salt Lake City, filed two separate civil rights lawsuits Thursday on behalf of two disabled children. The lawsuits claim the students allegedly suffered abuse at the hands of staff in the Alpine School District.

Aside from claims against the Alpine School District and individual employees, the lawsuits allege that the Utah State Board of Education violated federal law by failing to provide oversight, monitoring, rule-making and rule enforcement within the Utah public school system, exposing students with disabilities to physical dangers.

The first suit, Turner v. Alpine Sch. Dist., Utah State Board of Education, et al., alleges a 16-year-old blind student with autism who attends Horizon School was “brutally assaulted” by a school bus driver multiple times over the course of several days. According to the lawsuit, the student endured blows to the head, slaps to the face and hands, painful twisting of her arms and fingers, and verbal taunts from the bus driver as he carried out the physical abuse. The lawsuit alleges multiple district aides witnessed these incidents and failed to intervene, and also failed to report what they saw to district administrators, law enforcement or the child’s parents.

Video and audio evidence of these incidents were captured via the school bus security camera, according to court documents.

The lawsuit also claims that although the board of education requires school staff who interact with children with disabilities undergo training, neither the bus driver nor the aides who were present during the physical assaults have undergone such training. The lawsuit alleges the board of education “consistently fails” to provide adequate oversight and enforcement of Utah school districts’ compliance with federal law, and asserts that through inaction, the board has contributed to an atmosphere where such abuse is not only possible but likely to occur.

According to the lawsuit, the actions and failures of the named defendants in the suit violated the child’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the fundamental rights of the Fourth and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

The second suit, Keller v. Alpine Sch. Dist., Utah State Board of Education, et al., alleges a 10-year-old child with multiple disabilities who attended Dan Peterson School, a segregated school intended exclusively for children with disabilities was subjected to unlawful and shocking “behavior interventions,” including being deprived of food and water, being strapped to a “Rifton Chair” for hours at a time, and having his hands bound behind his back with twine. According to court documents, several of the incidents were corroborated by board-certified behavioral analysts from Utah Behavior Services who were present in the classroom.

The lawsuit states these punishments were carried out by a special education teacher and other district staff. The complaint identifies alleged district-wide failures to adequately train staff who serve students with disabilities and state-wide systemic failures by the board of education to oversee, monitor and enforce functions. Similar to the Turner lawsuit, the plaintiff in this second lawsuit is seeking a range of injunctive, declaratory, and monetary relief for violations of the same acts and amendments previously stated.

“The fact that these appalling incidents of abuse occurred in the same district at roughly the same time is an obvious indictment of some disturbing local deficiencies, but it also speaks to a larger, system-wide failure that places our most vulnerable children in harm’s way each time they board a school bus or enter a public school,” said Aaron Kinikini, Disability Law Center legal director in a press release. “Utah simply has to do better, and the children whose parents have courageously brought these lawsuits certainly deserve better. Accountability and meaningful reform are their goals, and should be ours as well.”

Alpine School District was contacted Thursday for comment on the two lawsuits.

The lawsuits were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Utah. Both lawsuits name the Alpine School District, the Alpine School District Board of Education, Superintendent Samuel Y. Jarman, Special Education Director Ryan Berke, the Utah State Board of Education and State of Utah Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson as defendants. The Turner suit also names Gary Bertagnole, a bus driver, and three “Jane Does” as defendants. The Keller suit names special education teacher Tarra Anderson and five “Jane Does” as defendants. Both children are being represented by their fathers, Greg Turner and Adam Keller, respectively.

Anderson is currently listed as a kindergarten special education teacher at Sharon Elementary on the school’s website, and is not listed as a staff member of the Dan Peterson School on its respective website.

According to school board meeting minutes from Sept. 11, 2018, Bertagnole resigned as a bus driver, after hired in August 2017, and was replaced by Sept. 10, 2018.

BYU rapper plans to set world record by performing for 30 consecutive hours

Rap history may be made next week in true Provo fashion — with a white guy, “Lord of the Rings” and a barnyard worth of sock puppets.

“In today’s world you need to make a splash,” said Joshua Palmer, a rapper who attends Brigham Young University. “You need to get out there somehow, get people to notice you, and that is pretty hard to do.”

Palmer, a senior studying commercial music, plans to break the Guinness World Record for the longest rap marathon completed by an individual next week by rapping for 30 continuous hours at Lowes Xtreme Airsports in Provo.

He first got into hip hop because of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s song “White & Nerdy,” a parody of the song “Ridin” by Chamillionaire and Krayzie Bone.

“It was like me,” Palmer said. “I am visually impaired, I have type 2 albinism, so I am about as white as you can get.”

Palmer is fully aware that when people think of a rapper, the first thing that comes to mind isn’t a BYU student.

“You don’t typically think of Mormons rapping,” he said.

He wrote his first rap song in high school for an English project. It was called “Pro Sports are Stupid,” a position, he said, he’s now softened on.

He’s involved in two musical projects, which includes performing under the stage name Jee Mingus, a name that’s a play off his own first name and is a nod to his affinity for jazz music and Charles Mingus.

The second is Sockhampton, a sock puppet rap group. The group is made up of fictional band members — who are all farm animal sock puppets — and led by a goat named Scruffy, who is “from the meadow” and sells actual grass. Scruffy stars in the music video for “Actual GOAT,” a song that takes hip hop tropes and turns them into goat puns. The video, Palmer’s most popular, has amassed about 5,000 views.

The group’s name is a pun off the group Brockhampton and is a concept similar to the Gorillaz, where every band member is fictional.

“It was something fun, something different,” Palmer said. “Nobody is doing this right now.”

But music is risky. Palmer knows he’ll never have a traditional 9-to-5 job and can expect to spend years making material, failing, and continuing to push forward. It’s why he began looking up hip hop world records and eyeing what could be possible as a way to get his name out there and recruit fans.

The current Guinness World Record for the longest rap marathon completed by an individual is held by Pablo Alvarez, who rapped for 25 hours, 56 minutes and four seconds in August 2017.

“I was like, that’s absurd, but that’s not impossible,” Palmer said.

He’s allowed five minutes of rest for every hour he spends rapping. He plans on drinking water, consuming some form of caffeine that won’t ruin his voice and eating a little bit throughout the attempt. As for if he’ll wear an adult diaper to power through long stretches, Palmer said that decision will depend on how intense he’s feeling.

He’ll draw from two hours worth of songs for material, will freestyle and plans to rap by reading from “The Lord of the Rings,” “Harry Potter” and the “Odyssey.” The puppets will also be on hand.

The attempt will give him hours of practice that he said will make him a better rapper.

“I am hoping at the end of this I will have a little bit better grasp on the art form,” he said.

Palmer plans to perform from 11 a.m. Thursday to 5 p.m. Friday at Lowes Xtreme Airsports in Provo. Admission will be $15 a person to jump in the area where Palmer is performing and $5 to go in and watch. Some proceeds from the event will go to charity.

Orem hospital opens new cancer clinic

Ron Clark’s 72nd birthday was his best yet. For him, May 17 didn’t just mark a new year, it meant that four years after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he was finally finishing his last treatment.

Now, he’s cancer free.

“It was a wonderful birthday present for me,” Ron Clark said.

At the time of his last treatment, Timpanogos Regional Hospital’s cancer unit was still in the basement. On Thursday, the Orem hospital opened its new cancer services, which include new technology, a move to the first floor and a space decorated with light accents and local nature photography.

“This is a community hospital, but it has access to technology you don’t see in a hospital this size,” said Jim Clarke, a radiation oncologist and the director of Timpanogos Cancer Services.

The new center — a partnership between Timpanogos Regional Hospital and Gamma West Cancer Services — introduces tomotherapy to the hospital through the Radixact Treatment Delivery System, which uses targeted radiation to treat cancers in places such as the head, neck, lung, breast and pancreas.

Gamma West Cancer Services first began using tomotherapy 10 years ago. The Orem machine is the organization’s fifth tomotherapy device.

There at 850 tomotherapy devices throughout the world. Its creator, Rock Mackie, expects more to be added to hospitals as the treatment’s reputation grows.

It’s something he’s bet his life on — literally. After being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Mackie turned to his own invention for treatment.

“If you use the technology you produce, that gives people confidence,” he said. “It was the only choice. Everything else was inferior.”

The hospital’s cancer services have made Ron Clark a fan. He said the staff helped his family navigate painlessly through treatment. He even has a note in his wallet that if something happens to him, he should be brought to the Orem hospital.

He walked through the halls of the new cancer center Thursday for its ribbon cutting, checking out the rooms. He said the new space has the wow factor.

“It says hope,” he said. “It says there is a light at the end of this tunnel.”

Orem council approves 1600 North ownership transfer to UDOT for $30 million widening

After more than 15 years of preparing, planning and working up the construction food chain, Orem’s 1600 North is now on the books to be widened.

The widening will be from State Street to Interstate 15, just about 1 mile. The road is classified as an important arterial on the Utah Department of Transportation’s Functional Classification Map.

The Orem City Council, in a resolution on Oct. 29, approved transferring ownership of that portion of the road to UDOT. The main reason for the transfer was the lack of finances the city needed to improve the road and the great need for it to be done now, over the next few years, which Orem could not do.

After discussion, the council found it in the best interest of the city to pass the ownership transfer resolution. It was a unanimous vote.

There are 28,000 trips a day on that portion of road that has only one lane going each way. The road will go from two lanes to five lanes; two going each way with a middle turn lane.

“It’s taken quite a few years in a row to get money moving ahead,” said Sam Kelly, Orem city engineer. “It will take $20-$30 million to see it widened. The Utah Department of Transportation realized they needed to be more proactive in Utah County.”

Mountainland Association of Governments has already given $4 million for the 1600 North project and that money will stay with the project as it transfers ownership to UDOT.

Kelly said UDOT needs to grow the road grid along the Wasatch Front. In Utah County, that means more east-west connector roads.

“A year ago we met with folks living along the corridor, they saw the need,” Kelly said.

While there were three options on widening, the safest and best option was to purchase homes. Five homes have already been purchased from willing sellers at fair market value. Those homes will be torn down for the widening.

According to Kelly, this portion of the 1600 North corridor is not the only project that needs attention from UDOT. He says Orem’s Center Street between I-15 and Geneva Road also needs to be widened as it carries great loads of east-west traffic from Orem and Vineyard.

“I’d like to move forward with Center Street,” Kelly said. “Improving the interchange may also be a reality.”

Kelly added the road would be widened to seven lanes. Three on each side and a middle turning lane.

Mexico farm town buries 3 of 9 slain Americans

LA MORA, Mexico — With Mexican soldiers standing guard, a mother and two sons were carried to the grave in hand-hewn pine coffins Thursday at the first funeral for the victims of a drug cartel ambush that left nine American women and children dead.

Clad in shirt sleeves, suits or modest dresses, about 500 mourners embraced in grief under white tents erected in La Mora, a hamlet of about 300 people who consider themselves Mormon but are not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some wept, and some sang hymns.

Members of the extended community — many of whom, like the victims, are dual U.S-Mexican citizens — had built the coffins themselves, and used shovels to dig a single, large grave for the three in the rocky soil of La Mora’s small cemetery. Farmers and teenage boys carried the coffins.

The coffins were placed on low tables, and mourners filed past to view the bodies and pay their last respects to Dawna Ray Langford, 43, and her sons Trevor, 11, and Rogan, 2.

They were to be laid to rest together, just as they died together Monday when attackers fired a hail of bullets at their SUV on a dirt road leading to another settlement, Colonia LeBaron, in neighboring Chihuahua state. Six children and three women in all were killed in the attack on the convoy of three SUVs.

There was no talk of revenge in this highly religious community, only a deep thirst for justice.

“The eyes of the world are upon what happened here, and there are saints all over this world whose hearts have been touched,” Jay Ray, Dawna’s father, said in a eulogy.

“The plan of God is for his saints to gather out from among the wicked, become separate from them, to band together to establish together the laws of respect and onedom,” Jay Ray said. “God will take care of the wicked.”

Dawna’s younger sister Amber Ray, 34, eulogized her as a devoted mother to her 13 children and homemaker who loved a good laugh and baked the best birthday cakes around.

“There isn’t anything in life that a cup of coffee couldn’t make better,” Amber said Dawna was fond of saying.

The hamlet is about 70 miles south of the Arizona border, where American-style frame houses alternate with barns and orchards.

Patrols of Mexican army troops passed by regularly on the hamlet’s only paved road, providing security that was lacking the day of the killings.

The other victims are expected to be buried in Colonia LeBaron later. But the two communities, whose residents are related, drew together in a show of grief.

Dozens of high-riding pickups and SUVS, many with U.S. license plates from as far away as North Dakota, arrived in La Mora for the funeral, traveling over the dirt road where the attack occurred.

Gunmen from the Juarez drug cartel had apparently set up the ambush as part of a turf war with the Sinaloa cartel, and the U.S. families drove into it.

Steven Langford, who was mayor of La Mora from 2015 to 2018 and whose sister Christina Langford was one of the women killed, said he expects the slayings to lead to an exodus from the community.

“Now this place is going to become a ghost town,” he said. “A lot of people are going to leave.”

Mexican officials said the attackers may have mistaken the group’s large SUVs for those of a rival gang. “They let the children go, so we can deduce that it was not a targeted attack” on the families, said the army’s chief of staff, Gen. Homero Mendoza.

But Julian LeBaron, whose brother Benjamin, an anti-crime activist, was killed by cartel gunmen in 2009, disputed that.

“They had to have known that it was women and children,” he said. He said the eight children who survived reported that one mother got out of her SUV and raised her hands and was gunned down anyway.

To many, the bloodshed seemed to demonstrate once more that the government has lost control over vast areas of Mexico to drug traffickers.

And it called into question President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s “hugs, not bullets” security strategy of trying to solve underlying social problems instead of battling drug cartels with military force.

It was also the latest shocking act of cartel violence to suggest that the old rules against killing foreigners, women or children are collapsing.

“The country is suffering very much from violence,” said William Stubbs, a pecan and alfalfa farmer who serves on a community security committee in Colonia LeBaron. “You see it all over. And it ain’t getting better. It’s getting worse.”