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Making a Difference in Special Education

Consider volunteering to become an Education Decision Maker through the Volunteer Education Advocate Project or representing a child through the Children’s Attorneys Project at Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada. Read more about how Nevada lawyers can make a difference in this article written by Jonathan Norman, Esq. and Xavier B. Planta, Esq. (COMMUNIQUÉ, Mar. 2022)

Ryan struggled during sixth and seventh grade – his grades were poor, he was often in trouble due to his behavior, and he had difficulty fitting in. Sadly, children in foster care are more likely to fare poorly in school. Ryan is just one of roughly 3,000 children in Clark County’s foster system. Studies show that children in foster care score 16 to 20 percent below non-foster children on state standardized tests; as many as 30 to 40 percent are in special education; and only 50 percent of youth in foster care graduate from high school. Frequent changes in foster homes and school placements, lack of academic support, and negative behaviors arising from trauma play a big role in these statistics.

While Ryan floundered in school, his parents were incapable of getting him the help he needed. Ryan was destined to fall further behind. That all changed when Ryan was appointed an Education Decision Maker (EDM) by the Dependency Court.

When a child is formally placed into foster care, the Dependency Court must appoint an Education Decision Maker under NRS 432B.462. The EDM’s role is to advocate for a child’s education needs and rights. The child’s parent or guardian can be the EDM, but when that is not possible, the court will appoint a relative, fictive kin, foster parent, or other person the Court determines is qualified to perform the duties of the EDM. In Ryan’s case, the court referred the matter to Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada’s Voluntary Education Advocate Program. This program provides training and support to adult volunteers who are willing to become EDMs for children in foster care. A volunteer was quickly identified to serve as the EDM and work with Ryan’s school to ensure his disability related needs would be met.

Right away, Ryan’s EDM raised numerous concerns with his school. The volunteer immediately requested a special education evaluation which revealed that Ryan qualified for special education services under an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Unfortunately, at the beginning of this school year, the IEP recommendations were not followed and Ryan was placed in an inappropriate classroom setting. Ryan’s EDM demanded the school address the failures, but the demands were met with silence. Ryan’s EDM reached out to the Education Advocacy Program at Legal Aid Center for assistance. The Education Advocacy team quickly filed a Due Process complaint against the Clark County School District (CCSD) to address why Ryan’s educational needs were not met.

Change was not immediate, but eventually Legal Aid Center’s Education Advocacy team reached a resolution with CCSD. As a result, Ryan was moved to an appropriate classroom, and CCSD developed a Behavior Intervention Plan consistent with Ryan’s IEP. Now, Ryan is doing well academically and his future looks bright.
Ryan’s education trajectory changed dramatically because he had an Education Decision Maker who was willing to step in and advocate on his behalf.

A recent United States District Court of Nevada decision in Rogich et al, vs. Clark County School District, may help students like Ryan who have IEPs while also assisting EDMs advocating for students. In that case, Federal Judge Richard F. Boulware found that CCSD violated the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) by failing to review and consider outside professional evaluations and ignoring recommendations in those evaluations about following a specialized instructional methodology. Such methodologies are needed for students with disabilities like dyslexia. This important decision may force schools to provide appropriate special education services more quickly to students who need them.

The Rogich case is just one tool for parents and EDMs to make sure that children with special needs get support tailored to their disabilities and abilities. Foster youth who face the same barriers Ryan faced need supportive adults to advocate on their behalf. Consider volunteering to become an EDM through the Volunteer Education Advocate Project or representing a child through the Children’s Attorneys Project at Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada. These are great opportunities to get involved and make a huge impact on the life of a child in foster care.

About the authors
Jonathan Norman

Jonathan Norman, Esq. is the Statewide Advocacy, Outreach and Policy Director for the Nevada Coalition of Legal Service Providers, and the acting Education Team Chief at the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada.

Xavier Planta

Xavier B. Planta, Esq. is the Deputy Directing Attorney of the Children’s Attorney’s Project at the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada and has been with the Legal Aid Center since 2009.

About this article: This article was originally published in the “Education Law” issue of Communiqué, the official publication of the Clark County Bar Association, (Mar. 2022). See https://clarkcountybar.org/about/member-benefits/communique-2022/communique-march-2022/.

© 2022 Clark County Bar Association (CCBA). All rights reserved. No reproduction of any portion of this issue is allowed without written permission from the publisher. Editorial policy available upon request.

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