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State says school for at-risk teens to close after arrests

February 15, 2019
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Marcel Chappuis, center, is escorted out the courtroom following his hearing at the Regional Justice Center in Las Vegas, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019. Marcel Chappuis and his wife, Patricia, the owners of a rural Nevada boarding school for at-risk teens and adolescents have been arrested on multiple child endangerment charges alleging that they served tainted water to students living at the facility. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)
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Marcel Chappuis, center, is escorted out the courtroom following his hearing at the Regional Justice Center in Las Vegas, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019. Marcel Chappuis and his wife, Patricia, the owners of a rural Nevada boarding school for at-risk teens and adolescents have been arrested on multiple child endangerment charges alleging that they served tainted water to students living at the facility. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A boarding school for at-risk teens will close following the arrests of the owners on child endangerment charges alleging that they served tainted water to students, authorities said Thursday.

“At this time the facility ... (is) assisting the kids currently in attendance to find other placements,” the state Division of Public and Behavioral Health, Child Care Licensing, and Division of Child and Family Services said.

“Once there are no children onsite,” a division statement said, Northwest Academy in Amargosa Valley will surrender its child care license.

The statement also pointed to the recent arrest of a teacher suspected of using excessive force at the private school. State health department spokeswoman Chrystal Main tallied nine children on Thursday at the facility some 90 miles (145 kilometers) west of Las Vegas.

School owners Marcel Chappuis, 72, and his wife, Patricia Chappuis, 67, are charged with endangering students by failing to provide enough bottled water for drinking, washing and cooking to replace tap water contaminated with arsenic.

Nye County sheriff’s deputies took the couple into custody after a Thursday court hearing in Las Vegas, where they were arrested late Tuesday.

Attorney Malcolm LaVergne, representing the couple, said they plan to plead not guilty and fight the charges. LaVergne said he will seek their release on bail at their next court hearing. A date wasn’t immediately set.

LaVergne derided as excessive and unnecessary the 43 charges filed against Marcel Chappuis. Patricia Chappuis faces the same charges plus two felony child abuse counts stemming from unspecified previous incidents.

LaVergne said he was not immediately provided with documents about the Nye County investigation that led to the arrests.

The attorney noted that state health officials didn’t order the school closed until after his clients’ arrests, and said Nye County sheriff’s officials were turning a civil and administrative process into a criminal matter.

“It’s essentially harassment,” LaVergne said. “They were already coming up to regulations with the state.”

State officials a year ago ordered the school to use bottled water after tap water tests found contamination, and arsenic levels were measured last November about three times the recommended U.S. Environmental Protection Agency level.

Arsenic is a natural element, but high doses can cause illnesses ranging from skin discoloration to stomach pain, paralysis and blindness.

Nye County sheriff’s officials said the school often ran out of bottled water and students had to rely on tap water for days at a time.

The teacher was arrested Jan. 29 on suspicion of child abuse after the sheriff’s office reported receiving complaints from a former staff member and a former student who is now 14. Sheriff’s officials said the teacher acknowledged sometimes using hands-on force on students placed in the facility by parents, guardians and courts. His case is pending.