Part I – Welcome to the Silver State Jean Murrell Adams, Esq.
Many Californians are choosing to move in search of a better life for their families. Top destinations include, Nevada, Texas and Florida. But when you have a child with special needs, your decision to relocate can have serious educational consequences and significantly impact your ability to effectively advocate for your child. In this three-part series, we explore some of the education-related and legal challenges that you and your child may face when moving to Nevada, Texas or Florida and how to manage them. Our series begins with Nevada, the Silver State, where ADAMS ESQ has represented children with special education needs for over 10 years.
- Nonexistent Special Education Teachers and Service Providers.Nevada’s school districts suffer from severe personnel shortages. While there are significant post-pandemic teacher vacancies in California, Nevada’s dire shortage of special education teachers and service providers severely impacts educational access and resources—often for extended periods of time. For example, according to recent complaints filed with the Nevada Department of Education, developmentally disabled students are forced to wait for special education evaluations and eligibility meetings for almost a year, preschoolers with special needs are being placed on classroom waiting lists for up to two school years. In another case, a school district secretly withheld IEP-mandated speech and language services for over two months.
Nevada’s few charter schools may be even worse according to one whistleblower, a former special education teacher. She reports that for the last two years, at least one charter school has resorted to using “untrained and unfit” special education substitutes to evaluate, develop IEPs and teach their students with disabilities. School districts have resorted to “writing out” aides from IEPs, eliminating these crucial service providers due to high staff vacancies. Private special education schools are similarly impacted by a severe shortage of qualified staff. Multiple parents report that they feel forced to keep their children at home, rather than risk their safety at school.
- Lack of Social Service Support. Local agencies are similarly impacted. Advocates report years-long waiting lists for very limited Regional Center services in Nevada. The rapid influx of new residents and the dearth of service providers like behavior therapists, speech therapists, counselors, tutors and independent evaluators, pose almost insurmountable challenges in obtaining community supports—even for parents with funds or insurance to cover them. Some parents have resorted to renting a separate apartment in another state, like Idaho, in order to qualify for help there. Mental health resources for children are also sorely lacking according to recent reports.
- Justice delayed is justice denied. California transplants will likely be surprised at the incredibly slow pace of special education due process and procedures in Nevada. For example, in California, parents are generally entitled to their child’s entire school record within 5 business days of request—while Nevada typically allows 45 days. Unlike California, Nevada has a 2-step special education eligibility process, which significantly delays the start of placement, services and supports. In due process cases, Nevada also has a 2-step appeals process, which means cases can linger in the courts for many years while your child languishes in the classroom.
The cards are unfairly stacked against parents because hearing officers who decide administrative due process cases are paid by the very school district that the parent is challenging! This often results in odd rulings and poor legal conclusions. For example, in a recent due process case, the Hearing Officer refused to allow the parent to testify about her own child’s need for special education services, instead deferring to school district staff who had never even met him. After banning all parent testimony, the Hearing Officer reached the legal conclusion that she failed to present evidence to support her case.
- What can parents do? Nevada is a beautiful state with warm and welcoming folks and dedicated teachers. However, it continues to struggle with poor social services and educational supports to meet the needs of a swelling population that includes children with special needs and their families. Here are a few ways you can prepare:
- Obtain current and thorough assessments before you move so that you and your child’s new teachers and service providers will have a full and accurate picture of their unique needs.
- Tighten up that IEP. Typically, the new school district must provide services which are comparable to the services described in your child’s previous program. So, make sure your child’s IEP clearly describes the special education classification, type of placement, the number of service minutes, whether it is 1:1 or small group, who will provide the services and instruction and where they will take place.
- Connect with local advocates and support groups such as Families for Effective Autism Treatment in Las Vegas, that can shortcut your efforts to locate resources and supports in your area.
- Identify new specialists, therapists, and healthcare facilities that can treat your child before you move. Consider insurance coverage and any changes required to ensure uninterrupted access to necessary treatments and therapies.
- Contact the special education department of your child’s school district before enrollment and give them a copy of your child’s school records. Schedule IEP meetings, discuss placement options, review teacher qualifications and address any safety concerns in advance.Moving from California to Nevada with a child with special education needs requires careful planning, research, and a determined mindset.With offices in Las Vegas and Reno, ADAMS ESQ stands ready to help if you believe the school district or charter school has violated your child’s educational rights.