Needing something special: Nevada County students, parents and administrators lobby to expand special needs education |

Needing something special: Nevada County students, parents and administrators lobby to expand special needs education

From left to right: Parent, Shalee McClendon-Stent, Shianna McClednon (10th grader at Nevada Union), parent, Sarah Souza, William Souza (eighth grader at Ready Springs), Assemblyman Brian Dahle, Mason Haase (seventh grader at Grass Valley Charter), Debbie Morris (principal at Nevada County Superintendent of Schools) and Debra Christenson (orientation and mobility specialist).
Submitted photo by Debra Christenson

If you’ve been keeping up with national news, you may have noticed talks on budget cuts for special education.

Some Californians are trying to ensure the same doesn’t become true for special needs education on the local and state level.

On April 1, a group of Nevada County special needs students, parents and administrators arrived at the state capital to talk about the importance of assembly bill 947, which passed the education and appropriations committees, and will be eligible for a vote as of Monday, according to Erik Brahms of Assemblyman Brian Dahle’s office.

The bill adds many special needs services to the core curriculum. Specifically, it includes instruction for skills related to orientation and mobility, social interaction and technology.

“Orientation of mobility is very important to me because it helps visually impaired people,” said William Souza, an eighth-grader at Ready Springs Elementary School, who went to the capital earlier this month.

Souza was part of a group of peers, parents and administrators from Ready Springs, Grass Valley Charter and Nevada Union to advocate the bill’s passing. The group went to the capitol building, watching an assembly and senate meeting from a bird’s-eye view, said Souza.

Thereafter, students went to Assemblyman Dahle’s office and gave speeches about the bill’s importance as it relates to brail, technology and orientation education.

“If you’re blind, you can’t see your peers and see body language and interact socially with your peers,” said Debra Christenson, who helped chaperon the trip. She is a visually impaired teacher and orientation and mobility specialist for the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools.


Adding these services to the education code would ensure California students receive things like orientation training which, Souza said, is important for people like him who suffer from a visual impairment that deteriorate as he ages.

Souza practices orientation training after school on Wednesdays, he said, explained that he orients himself to the logistics of the bus schedule from places around Grass Valley and Auburn.

“I’m learning to get around street crossings,” said Souza. “It helps me use those skills in the future when I have less vision.”

Souza said the bill supports off-site mobility training for California students who need it. While orientation and mobility training has not been cut in Nevada County schools, it has been cut in other school districts, said Christenson.

“It’s just to make sure blind and visually impaired students’ needs are being met,” said Christenson.

Dahle, who agreed to support the bill, said if it passes, funding to support the special needs services may arrive in the following year’s budget.

Souza said he and his peers enjoyed their time talking with Dahle, and peering inside the political process.

“It was a really good trip,” he said.

Contact Sam Corey at 530-477-4219 or at

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