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Pre-Conference Sessions


COPAA 19th Annual Pre-Conference (Scroll for a list of All Pre-Conference Sessions)

Two Day Skill Building - Thursday, March 2, 2017 and Friday, March 3, 2017




Intended Audience


New IDEA Attorney Skills Training: Special Education Law, Procedure and Strategy

Selene Almazan

Jodi Siegel

Dawn Smith



Due Process Hearing Training

Jennifer D. Laviano

Craig Goodmark

Wayne Steedman

Michele Kule- Korgood



Advocacy 101: Applying the Law & Resources for Effective Advocacy

Melissa Alexander

Catherine M. Michael



Advocacy 201: Skills Every Advocate Needs to Know

Mandy Favaloro

Carrie Watts

Advocate/Law Student


Advocate Training:

Representing Parents in Impartial Hearings

Barbara J. Ebenstein Jean Marie Brescia



P-1. New IDEA Attorney Skills Training: Special Education Law, Procedure and Strategy

Presenters: Selene Almazan, Esq., Jodi Siegel, Esq. and Dawn Smith, Esq.

Audience Category: Attorney

Audience Level:        Novice                                                                                     

This is an introductory program designed for attorneys who are just beginning to practice special education law.  Participants learn basic special education law and procedure as well as strategies and practice tips for handling special education cases.  Program includes an overview of the IDEA and Section 504, and focuses on practical skills in taking a case from the initial client interview to the due process request.  We do not address skills and issues that arise in a due process proceeding as that is covered in the pre-conference session "Impartial Due Process Training.”  We do work in a combination of large and small groups led by experienced practitioners in special education.

P-2. Impartial Due Process Hearing Training

Presenters: Jennifer D. Lavanio, Esq. , Craig Goodmark, Esq., Michele Kule-Korgood, Esq. and Wayne Steedman, Esq.

Audience Category: Attorney

Audience Level: Intermediate                                                                                          

This program is for attorneys who are familiar with the IDEA and who want to focus on and practice skills for impartial due process hearings. Large group discussions cover important pre-hearing tasks, from complying with 10-day notice provisions to requesting appropriate remedies such as compensatory education. In smaller groups, broken out by experience level, participants review records for consideration as exhibits, identify key issues, discuss strategies for drafting a comprehensive due process hearing complaint, and establish a trial plan. There are discussions and demonstrations of how to prepare and organize opening statements, direct and cross examinations, and how to handle potential objections. Participants are individually critiqued during each exercise by experienced special education attorneys.


P-3. Advocacy 101: Applying the Law and Resources for Effective Advocacy

Presenters: Melissa Alexander, Parent Educator, The Parents' Place of Maryland, and Catherine Michael, Esq.

Audience Category:     Advocate

Audience Level: Novice/Intermediate                                                                                       

This two-day Advocacy Training Pre-Conference training is an excellent seminar for advocates 1 - 5 years into practice.  It includes an overview of the IDEA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, NCLB, McKinney–Vento and FERPA. This interactive training focuses on many tools often underutilized by advocates, such as the commentary of several federal regulations regarding children with disabilities, free resources to assist in identifying scientifically research based practices, locating and utilizing information from OSEP funded projects (the TA&D Network), OSEP and OCR Policy Guidance; as well as how to run a successful practice. 


P-4. Advocacy 201: Skills Every Advocate Needs to Know

Presenters: Mandy Favaloro, Esq. and Carrie Watts, J.D.

Audience Category:     Advocate/Law Student

Audience Level: Intermediate/Advanced                                                                                         

This session is a two day, hands-on, in-depth advanced training course primarily for Advocates, with a skills-focus (rather than informational focus).  It is expected that Advocates taking this course already have a working knowledge of special education laws and the IEP process.  The format includes large group lecture and small group discussions with guided exercises to practice skills.  On Day 1, we will focus on preparation strategies, understanding information in records, and developing analytical skills.  On Day 2, we will focus on communication strategies, practical advocacy strategies in IEP meetings, and writing skills.  Each session has been designed to build on the skills learned in the prior session.  This course is rigorous and fast-paced, and participants benefit from learning not only from the trainers and course materials but also from each other and from opportunities to practice skills in mock scenarios.


P-5. Advocate Training: Representing Parents in Impartial Hearings

Presenters: Barbara J. Ebenstein, Esq. and Jean Marie Brescia, Esq.

Audience Category: Advocate

Audience Level: Advanced

Some states now permit special education advocates to represent parents in IDEA impartial hearings.  This intensive two-day training begins to give advanced professional advocates the basic skills to represent parents in impartial hearings through readings, lectures, discussions, and skill practice in small groups.  Participants will receive feedback from knowledgeable and experienced trainers.


One Day Only - Thursday, March 2, 2017



Intended Audience


ADA & Section 504: Supreme Court Developments and Agency Guidance

Catherine Reisman

Saran Zuba



Make the IEP Team Work for You


Andrew Feinstein,

Melanie Dunn,

Jillian Griswold,




Persuasive Writing: A Roadmap to Winning IDEA Cases in Federal Court, including Attorneys' Fees

Alice Nelson

Ellen Saideman



Making Systemic Change in Special Education

Sonja Kerr

Kerry Agins

Brenda Louisin



T-1  ADA & Section 504: Supreme Court Developments and Agency Guidance

Presenters: Catherine Merino Reisman, Esq. and Sarah E. Zuba, Esq.

Audience Category:     All

Audience Level: Intermediate/Advanced

This one-day session for advocates and attorneys examines the issues of exhaustion currently being litigated before the Supreme Court in Fry v. Napoleon Community Sch. Dist. In addition, USDOE guidance and recent judicial developments on the following subjects: students with ADHD, provision of services on a non-discriminatory basis to students in juvenile justice residential facilities, access to extracurricular activities and effective communication obligations are discussed.


T-3  Persuasive Writing:  A Roadmap to Winning IDEA Cases in Federal Court, including Attorneys’ Fees

Presenters: Alice K. Nelson, Esq., and Ellen Saideman, Esq.

Audience Category: Attorney

Audience Level: All 

This full-day workshop teaches persuasive writing for litigating IDEA cases in federal court from drafting a complaint through writing a fee petition. There are three writing exercises:  a complaint; a response to a motion to dismiss; and time entries. 


T-4 Making Systemic Change In Special Education

Presenters:  Sonja Kerr, Esq., Kerry Agins, Esq., and Brenda Louisin, M.Ed.

Audience Category: All

Audience Level: Intermediate/Advanced

This session is designed to assist advocates and attorneys in effectuating systemic change in special education through litigation, the state complaint process, and a combination of both.


One Day Only - Friday, March 3, 2017




Intended Audience


IDEA Litigation in Federal Court: Procedures, Claims and Best Practice

Mark Martin

Jonathan A. Zimring



Direct and Cross-Examination of Witnesses

Franklin Hickman

Tracey Spencer-Walsh



The Purposes, Uses and Misuses of Assessments for Students with Disabilities

Yvonilda Muniz

Jim Hollis

Christina Gollis

Dr. Jennifer Morrison  



½ Day Only – Friday, March 3, 2017



Intended Audience


Power Tools to Win: Strategies to Win Cases Against Publicly Funded Adversaries by Leveraging Technology

William J. Porta



Educational Benefits

Judith Gran



F-1  IDEA Litigation in Federal Court: Procedures, Claims and Best Practice

Presenters: Mark Martin, Esq. and Jonathan A. Zimring, Esq.

Audience Category: Attorney

Audience Level:  Intermediate/Advanced                                                                                   

This one-day session is for attorneys who are filing or defending a Complaint in federal court arising from an IDEA claim.  Participants are led through a step-by-step review of the IDEA review process addressing federal court litigation from complaint or answer through post-judgement and appellate considerations. Includes a discussion of supplemental claims but with a focus on handling the various stages of the IDEA appeal.  Participants consider strategies related to filing a complaint and answer, preparing and handling discovery, determining the appropriate legal standards and a review of the critical cases and issues involved in federal litigation, as well as the legal standards for Appellate review and the factors to consider when seeking an appeal.


F-2  Direct and Cross-Examination of Witnesses 

Presenters: Franklin J. Hickman, Esq. and Tracey Spencer-Walsh, Esq.

Audience Category: Attorney/Advanced Advocate

Audience Level:  Intermediate/Advanced

Techniques for Direct and Cross Examination of Expert Witnesses.  Includes sessions on preparation and strategies.  Each Participant has two opportunities to conduct a cross examination. 


F-3 The Purposes, Uses and Misuses of Assessments for Students with Disabilities

Presenters: Yvonilda Muniz, Esq., Jim Hollis, PhD, JD., Christina Gollis, MS, CCC-SLP and Dr. Jennifer Morrison  

Audience Category: All

Audience Level: All

The presentation affords an overview of commonly-encountered issues involving the purposes, uses, and misuses of educational and psychological testing for students with disabilities. Beginning with discussion of core principles of measurement and test validity, presentation topics will then include:  

  • purposes and relevance of specific, commonly-used tests and measures for describing student cognitive development, cognitive profiles, academic progress, academic achievement, behavioral and emotional functioning, speech, and language functioning; 
  • identifying the qualifications of personnel to use and interpret tests and measures; 
  • uncovering improper use and interpretation of assessments generally and with specific commonly-used tests and measures; 
  • ensuring students are assessed in all areas of suspected disability and educational need, and otherwise as required by law; 
  • dealing effectively with school assessment professionals in IEP meetings, mediations and due process hearings. 

Advocate or attorney involvement with student assessment issues invariably occurs against the background of IDEA and Section 504, and therefore concluding topics, as time permits, will address key strategies for safeguarding the student’s legal interests in regard to school assessment. 



F-4.1  Power Tools to Win: Strategies to Win Cases Against Publicly Funded Adversaries by Leveraging Technology

Presenter: William J. Porta, Esq.

Audience Category: Attorney

Audience Level: All

This half-day course explores various strategies to prevail in special education matters. Participants learn how to profitably and effectively represent clients without regard to their ability to pay for expert witnesses or attorney’s fees. 

The session covers intake to settlement, reviewing key forms including a sample retainer agreement; an independent educational evaluation request; a records request; a freedom of information request; a ten-day notice; a due process complaint; various motions; a subpoena; and a settlement agreement. Participants also learn how to effectively name and organize electronic files and folders for easy access before, during, and after the hearing by utilizing an efficient (almost) paperless process and developing habits that lead to successful outcomes and satisfied clients


F-4.2. Educational Benefit Review

Presenter: Judith Gran, Esq.

Audience Category: All

Audience Level:       All                                                                                        

This is a half day session. For many years, parent attorneys and advocates have urged that the Rowley standard (that educational programs for students with disabilities must provide "more than a trivial educational benefit") is outdated and does not reflect the high expectations for students with disabilities that Congress articulated in the 1997 and 2004 amendments to IDEA. Courts have rejected this argument, noting that Congress did not explicitly override Rowley when it amended IDEA. This session offers an alternative approach to enforcing IDEA's substantive guarantees: Educational Benefit Review. This method, which is now used by several State Educational Agencies to monitor students' IEPs, enables advocates, hearing officers and judges to evaluate the quality of a student's program against explicit statutory requirements of IDEA that, collectively, must be met for a student to receive educational benefit. 

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