LAS VEGAS (KSNV) — "Every time you see the school number, your heart just drops and you know something is wrong."
Veronica Larson’s story is not uncommon.
She was a single mother with three kids. One son is mentally disabled, and he is one of thousands of students in Clark County with an “individualized education plan” or IEP.
“The IEP even pretty much states what are the signs of him being frustrated. He can be mumbling, scripting, but then he does fists or that right there. That’s a sign something is going on.”
His plan was supposed to educate teachers about his disability. It would help them see triggers for outbursts and help them de-escalate. Follow the plan, and he would be able to stay in regular classes. Veronica tells us that didn’t happen.
“There were situations; the IEP not being followed, him getting suspended over and over and over again.”
Suspended and transferred -- the district moving him to three schools. Each time, he had trouble adjusting. It’s the same story line we heard almost daily in court.
“You guys have been working with legal aid, right?” Hearing Master Sonny Bailey asks the defendant. “Is that getting done?”
Autism court is where autistic kids avoid the justice system with therapy. It’s also where parents tell Bailey about their problems with the Clark County School District.
In one case an autistic boy’s IEP simply had school staff make sure he got to class OK. They didn’t -- he missed classes, and the school moved to expel him.
In another case, an autistic girl claimed her caseworker tried to get her to sign a paper saying she didn’t need an IEP anymore.
Legal Aid of Southern Nevada often steps in, and they tell us parents have a real challenge talking with the district one on one.
"We go to IEP meetings and there’s 12 school employees and the parent and that’s it. Often times the parents feel like it’s us against them," an attorney from Legal Aid tells us. “It’s a vote and they go around the table. Usually the school will side with each other."
"We have some students that cost ten thousand dollars to meet their needs," CCSD spokeswoman Kirsten Searer told us.
The school district has 40,875 students with an IEP. Searer tells us the vast majority of those plans are met, but with incredibly high stakes, they can do a better job.
“We’ve had a lot of discussions of the school-to-prison pipeline," Searer said. "It’s a discussion of what can we do at a school level. There’s a lot of factors, but we know it's students with extra challenges before they get in trouble with the law. That’s a huge conversation we’ve been having.”
In the middle of that conversation are parents like Veronica, who says it has been a struggle.
“You know, it almost feels like you’re a failure. You’re trying to keep everyone happy and make sure your son gets everything he needs. If it’s not school, it's transportation or administration -- you’re always finding yourself being blocked.”