The COPAA Board of Directors is pleased to announce that Valerie Vanaman, Esq. is the 2015 recipient of the Diane Lipton Award for Outstanding Advocacy. The award is given to an individual or group of individuals who have made a particularly exceptional and outstanding contribution to COPAA's primary mission: obtaining high-quality educational services for children with disabilities.
COPAA's award honors the memory of Diane Lipton, a tireless advocate for children with disabilities for over two decades. She began as a parent-advocate on behalf of her own daughter, Chloe, who had been placed in a segregated school, separated from her peers without disabilities by a chain link fence. Diane became an attorney for the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), where she championed the civil rights of children with disabilities. She advised President Clinton on special education issues and helped shape the laws prohibiting schools from segregating children with disabilities. In memory of Diane, COPAA honors individuals who are exceptionally dedicated to the rights of children with disabilities.
COPAA Board Member Alexis Casillas said in her nomination of Valerie: "I know that across the country, Valerie Vanaman has seeped into the collective consciousness of the special education world. I remember that as a family seeking services for my brother, her name meant hope that we would finally get what Austin needed. I know how just uttering the name “Valerie Vanaman” can change the course of a case."
Valerie is a master at creating multidisciplinary strategies for addressing complex social problems. After her studies at Harvard Valerie spent six years working with the Legal Aid Foundation of Long Beach and with the Western Center on Law and Poverty in the Los Angeles area. She has committed her career to providing civil legal services to the poor and low-income populations.
Valerie see the need to "spread the word," and to get others behind our cause. So in 1973 she returned to Harvard where she spent two years teaching the next generation of lawyers to fight our good fight. While Valerie was serving as the Acting Civil Director of the National Legal Aid and Defense Association and as a Clinical teaching fellow at Harvard, Congress passed the IDEA to protect students with disabilities. As Valerie watched the law come to fruition, and saw how it could change the way we help our students, she began to plan.
Valerie began working in education law at the IDEA's inception. She spent two years with the Children’s Defense Fund, after which she returned to Los Angeles in 1977 to serve as Senior Counsel for the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles. In 1981 Valerie and her close friends founded Newman.Aaronson.Vanaman, a private firm committed to special education and disability advocacy.
Since founding Newman.Aaronson.Vanaman, Valerie and the lawyers she has mentored have helped tens of thousands of children. Many a family shares stories of how Valerie changed the course of their child and family's lives.
The mark Valerie has made goes further. Beyond the tireless work that goes into individual representation, Valerie has worked for broader institutional change. She was intricately involved in the Chanda Smith litigation which challenged the failure of second largest school district in the country’s failure fully and appropriately comply with the federal and state laws providing protections for all students with disabilities. Valerie has continued to be involved in that case, working with court monitors as they implement the consent decree issued after Chanda Smith was brought.
Valerie is one of the founding members of COPAA. She is also a leader in the state organization California Association for Parent and Child Advocacy (CAPCA) has organized conferences and lobbying trips through CAPCA in an effort to protect the rights of the clients we seek both in educational and other matters. Valerie spends a great deal of time dissecting proposed legislation with other lawyers and with our clients about how the proposed laws might impact them.
Valerie has also supported countless organizations working to protect clients through research, through representation, through services--anyone who is trying to make a difference seems to be on her radar. Valerie has always gotten that it matters. No matter how big or small the issue, she knows that it matters and she has worked to make sure others do too.
Valerie's role in the development of a parent's bar in California is undeniable. Given her commitment to developing the next generation of advocates, her impact is exponentially greater than what we can observe from her work thus far. She is often referred to as the grandmother of special education law, and she certainly has left a lasting mark as she worked with it from its early days as Public Law 94-142, to try to make the IDEA the exemplar of a law we know it is supposed to be.
Valerie is a leader for our community. She has led the way for many to practice quality special education law, and she has touched many lives. Please join us in congratulating Valerie on this honor. Valerie will be presented the award in San Diego on Saturday, March 7,2015 at the 17th Annual COPAA Conference Awards Luncheon.
For more information about and to register for the COPAA Conference visit The 2015 COPAA Conference website.