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COPAA Board of Directors

COPAA Board of Directors (2019-2020)


Maureen van Stone, Esq., (MD), Chair

Mandy Favaloro, Esq. (CA), Vice-Chair

David Jefferson (AZ), Treasurer

Jesse Cutler, Esq. (NY), Secretary


Board Members:

Missy Alexander (MD)
Alexis Casillas, Esq.(CA), IMMEDIATE PAST Chair
Matthew Cohen, Esq, (IL)
Eileen Crumm (CA)
Cynthia Daniels-Hall (NC)
Andrew Feinstein, Esq. (CT)
Michael Gilberg, Esq. (NY)
Tal Goldin, Esq. (MT)
Craig Goodmark, Esq. (GA)
Kimberly Griffie Jackson (FL)
Monika Jones, J.D. (CA)
Michele Kule Korgood, Esq. (NY)
Jennifer D. Laviano, (CT)
Shenikwa Medlock (TX)
Catherine Merino Reisman (NJ)
Ellen Saideman, Esq. (RI)
Denise Smith (TX)
Jonathan Zimring, Esq. (GA) At-Large EC Member

photo of Maureen van Stone  Maureen van Stone, Esq. (MD), Chair, is the Director of the Maryland Center for Developmental Disabilities (MCDD) at Kennedy Krieger Institute (KKI) and the founding director of Project HEAL (Health, Education, Advocacy, and Law), a MCDD community-based program. Project HEAL is Maryland’s only comprehensive medical-legal partnership, which provides advocacy and legal services to low- and moderate-income families and children with disabilities who receive clinical services at Kennedy Krieger Institute. Maureen is also a core director for Kennedy Krieger Institute's Center for Innovation and Leadership in Special Education and adjunct faculty at Towson University. Maureen is a member of Kennedy Krieger Institute’s ethics committee. Maureen earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of Southern California, a master’s degree in developmental psychology at The Johns Hopkins University, and a Juris Doctor at Whittier Law School, with a concentration on children’s legal issues. Prior to law school, Maureen worked as a clinician on the Neurobehavioral Unit in the Department of Behavioral Psychology at KKI for six years. Maureen is a graduate of the Leadership Maryland Class of 2012 and received the following awards from Maryland’s business and legal newspaper, The Daily Record: 2014 Very Important Professionals award, 2013 Maryland’s Top 100 Women award, 2012 Leadership in Law award, and 2011 Leading Women award.


 photo of mandy favaloro Mandy Favaloro, Esq. (CA), Vice Chair, is an attorney at A2Z Educational Advocates.  Mandy graduated magna cum laude from the University of Redlands with a B.A. in Government, and then attended law school at Pepperdine University, where she graduated with a Juris Doctor degree.  While at Pepperdine, Mandy participated in the Special Education Advocacy Clinic, where she worked with families involved in the IEP process.  Since joining A2Z Educational Advocates Mandy has advocated for parents of students with disabilities at all stages of the process including IEP meetings, mediations, due process hearings and in federal court. Mandy prepared and delivered oral arguments in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a case involving a school district’s denial of a student’s access to school, obtaining a favorable opinion from the Ninth Circuit on the precedent setting issue of mootness of an IDEA claim upon the death of a student.  Mandy is an active member of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA.  She currently serves on the Board of Directors and is a Co-Chair of the Training Committee and a Co-Chair of the Conference Committee.  Mandy has presented at previous COPAA conferences and in webinars on a variety of special education topics, and has given presentations for other organizations.  Mandy is a past instructors for COPAA’s SEAT program.
 picture of David Jefferson  

David Jefferson, (AZ), TreasurerAs a parent of special needs children, David understands and appreciates all of the difficulties parent’s face as they try and navigate the special education maze.  David formed Parent Support Arizona to ensure parents have a local resource and the tools they need to ensure their children’s educational needs are met. Over the past few years, David has sought administrative remedies through the State Department of Education, Office of Administrative Hearings OCR and FERPA.  David uses these experiences to provide civil rights advocacy, educational advocacy, parent training and represent parents in IDEA due process hearings in the State of Arizona.  In addition he offers self-help tools and resources that allow parents to advocate for themselves and on an equal footing with schools as they advocate for their children’s rights. 

 man with dark receding hair, white shirt in front of law books Jesse Cole Cutler, Esq. (NY), Secretary. Jesse knew he would be entering the field of special education as early as high school when he was volunteering in a program for special education teenagers. He came to work for Regina Skyer while attending college and at that time began to learn about the legal process as it pertains to special education.  While in college (S.U.N.Y. Albany) he worked in the New York State assembly, and still closely follows the legislature as it pertains to special education law. Jesse joined our firm as an associate upon receiving his J.D. from Brooklyn Law School in 2002 and became a partner in 2004. He works closely with Regina on all aspects of firm management and is in charge of the Litigation and Appeal Team.  Jesse works on all of the firm’s federal court appeals and is admitted to practice in each of the federal districts of New York. Jesse regularly lectures on special education policies, procedures and litigation strategies to parent and attorney groups.  He has published decisions on the federal and state level. Jesse lives in Brooklyn Heights with his wife, an editor and author of children’s books, and his two sons. 


 photo of Missy Alexander

Melissa Alexander,  MD - (Missy) is a parent educator with Maryland’s Parent Training and Information Center.  She works with families of children with disabilities in the 3 Southern Maryland counties, helping them advocate for appropriate educational services for their children and finding community resources to meet their children's needs. She presents parent and professional workshops on a variety of topics, and helps facilitate study groups using Wrightslaw's "From Emotions to Advocacy" framework. She is the parent advocate on the St. Mary's County's Local Care Team (formerly known as Local Coordinating Council), and is a member of the St. Mary's County, Maryland Local Management Board. Missy has been a guest lecturer at Towson University, Johns Hopkins University, and The College of Southern Maryland on parenting a child with autism. Missy is Secretary for the Learning Disabilities Association of St. Mary’s County, Maryland, and is on the Board of Directors for the Learning Disabilities Association of Maryland. And the Autism Spectrum Support Group of Southern Maryland.  Missy’s dedication and passion for advocating for children with disabilities stems from advocating for her own daughter.  Missy is an active member of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, specifically the Membership and Conference Committees, and was the first advocate member to Chair of the COPAA Board of Directors in 2012-2013. 

 photo of alexis casillas Alexis Casillas, Esq.  CA, IMMEDIATE PAST Chair, has been committed to special education advocacy since her brother was first diagnosed with autism. As an undergraduate she volunteered with nonprofit advocacy organizations like Best Buddies and Autism Speaks. She then attended Columbia Law School where she was trained to work with special-needs families by Advocates for Children of New York, volunteered with the Autism Legislation Project, and also worked at the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission where she participated in a forum on disability access for public transit, and at the Department of Health and Human Services where she worked on Medicare access issues. Having grown up with a developmentally disabled sibling and deciding to go to law school specifically to practice disability rights law, Alexis has a strong commitment to helping children with special needs and a unique perspective on the special education process. She has experienced firsthand many of the emotions her clients confront every day, and approaches her cases with that experience in mind.
                               photo of matt cohen             

Matthew Cohen, J.D., (IL) has been an attorney practicing special education and disability law since 1981.   Prior to starting his current firm, he was a founding partner in Monahan & Cohen, from 1990 to 2011. In addition to my special education and disability rights work, he has extensive experience in health care and mental health law.  He is the primary or collaborating author of several amendments to the mental health and special education laws of Illinois, as well as working on legislation at the federal level. In 1997, he presented frequently on a wide variety of special education topics, as well as on mental health and confidentiality law.  Matt has conducted presentations in 47 states and abroad.  He is also the author of a book on advocacy, published in 2009 and has authored numerous articles on these subjects. Equally or more important, he is the parent of a young adult with a disability and is dealing with the many challenges that all families face in securing appropriate education, housing, training and support services for him. He served as President of the Board of Directors of the national Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorders (CHADD) organization from July of 1999 to June of 2000, where he was on the board from July of 1995 to June of 2002.  He currently serves on CHADD's Public Policy Committee and is also the chair of the Illinois Attorney General's Special Education Committee and was a founding board member of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) a national special education and disability rights advocacy organization, where he served on the Executive Committee from 1999 to 2003 and continues to serve on the public policy committee.  Matt also serves on the public policy committee of the national Learning Disabilities Association of America, as well.

 photo of eileen crumm

Eileen Crumm, PhD., (CA) is a longtime COPAA member who serves on the training committee and as a SEAT instructor.  Eileen works as theExecutive Director of a nonprofit in northern California that serves families of children with developmental delays, disabilities, social emotional concerns and special health care needs.  Eileen and the multi-cultural, multilingual peer parent staff work with about 2500 families a year,  helping with community services including IEPs and IFSPs.   Eileen participates in Family Voices of California, Help Me Grow Alameda County and the Family Resource Center Network of California.   She has worked for the local Parent Training and Information Center (DREDF), as a special education advocate in private practice, and as a university professor.  Eileen is the proud parent of two young adults, one with physical disabilities.

black woman with multicolored turbin on head   

Cynthia Daniels-Hall (NC), is the parent of children with diagnoses on the autism spectrum.  Cynthia is a special education advocate and owner of EveryChild Solutions, an education advocacy business. Cynthia is an advocate member of COPAA, a Black American female born in the southeast, raised in the northeast, and now live in North Carolina in the southern eastern region of the USA.  As a person who was raised in a family of educators, and as the parent of young adults with disabilities, she understands the process from a unique and personal perspective.  Cynthia understands how the inconsistent 
implementation of special education laws by public school systems affects parents and their children. As a military spouse, having lived in six states, she realizes that when helping parents obtain a free appropriate public education for their children in the least restrictive environment, any solution must be tailored to their individual child and their situation.  Cynthia interest in serving on COPAA Board and committees is advocate training promoting the development of knowledge and skills necessary to support, inform, and empower parent's participation in the special education process. 

 photo of andy feinstein

Andrew Feinstein, Esq. (CT) has represented children with disabilities as an attorney for the past 20 years. For the past eight years, he has practiced out of Mystic, Connecticut. He now has an office in Manchester, Connecticut, as well, with two lawyers in it. He co-chairs the Governmental Affairs Committee of COPAA and is an adjunct professor in the School of Education of both Central Connecticut State University and Southern Connecticut State University. Attorney Feinstein was graduated from Wesleyan University in 1972 and the New York University School of Law in 1975.  He completed the Senior Manager in Government Program at the Kennedy School, Harvard University, in 1983.  He has served as a professional staff member of the House Committee on Armed Services and Chief Counsel of the House Civil Service Subcommittee.

 photo of michael gilberg

Michael Gilberg, Esq. (NY)has years of both Special Education and Disability Rights Law and Advocacy Experience. Michael also has his own personal experience as someone on the Autism Spectrum. Michael received his J.D. from Pace University School of Law in 2007 after receiving both his B.A. and M.P.A. also from Pace University.   Michael holds numerous Professional Affiliations and Leadership Roles and is on the Board of Directors of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) and the National Association of Attorneys with Disabilities (NAAD).

 middle age man, balding with goatee and mustache  


Tal Goldin, Esq. (MT) Tal Goldin is a civil rights attorney and the Director of Advocacy at Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA), Montana’s federally funded civil legal aid organization. Tal is responsible for the supervision and training of over 15 public-interest attorneys addressing the civil legal needs of low-income Montanans. Tal’s work is focused on developing and prosecuting impact litigation and emphasizing the civil rights aspects of poverty law in a broad range of areas, including discrimination in public programs and services, consumer protection, domestic violence, victims of crime, elder abuse and exploitation, subsidized housing, public benefits, health harming legal needs, and Indian law. As a member of the organization’s Leadership and Management teams, he is involved in all aspects of daily organizational leadership and long-term strategic management. Tal is actively involved in providing training, technical assistance, and mentorship to special education attorneys and advocates across the U.S. Prior to his work at MLSA, Tal was the Supervising Attorney for the Education Unit at Disability Rights Montana, the federally mandated civil rights protection and advocacy organization for Montana, where his work focused almost entirely on enforcing the federally protected rights of children with disabilities in K-12 public school settings. In 2018, Tal and his co-counsel obtained a $1.14 million settlement against a school district and the state educational agency (the largest special education settlement in Montana history) for a rural Montana student with a severe cognitive disability and autism who had received no education in almost four years. Tal has taught Special Education Law, Policy, and Practice at the University of Montana, Phyllis J. Washington College of Education and Human Sciences, served as an adjunct professor at the University of Montana School of Law, and presented throughout Montana and nationally on the civil rights of students with disabilities. Previously, Tal worked in private practice in the areas of family, real estate, landlord-tenant, and business law; at the Kings County (Brooklyn, NY) District Attorney's Office (KCDA) as a researcher and grant writer for youth alternative-to-incarceration programs; and later assisted in prosecuting perpetrators of child abuse and child homicide in the KCDA Crimes Against Children Bureau. In a prior career, Tal was a scenic designer, project manager, and art director for film, television, and theatre based out of New York City. Tal is a member of the Order of Barristers, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, the National Association of Counsel for Children, the American Bar Association, the Montana Trial Lawyers Association, a past president of the Western Montana Bar Association, and a 2013 fellow of the New Leader’s Council. He is admitted to practice law before Montana state and federal courts, Washington state courts, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

 picture of Craig Goodmark

Craig Goodmark, Esq. (GA) is currently a consultant at the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Inc. and an education law attorney in Atlanta, Georgia.   Mr. Goodmark was previously the director of the TeamChild Atlanta Project at ALAS.  TeamChild Atlanta provided legal services to low-income families with outstanding educational issues, children involved with the juvenile justice system or children whose unmet needs have not been addressed.  In that capacity, Mr. Goodmark provides technical assistance, advocacy, and full legal representation to low income families whose disabled children are not having their developmental, educational or mental health needs met.  Mr. Goodmark has represented hundreds of students in the metropolitan Atlanta area secure appropriate educational services.  Prior to entering legal services, Mr. Goodmark spent five years in private practice at law firms specializing in education law, with an emphasis on special education litigation.  Mr. Goodmark has represented teachers, students and families of children with disabilities.  Mr. Goodmark is a graduate of Leadership Atlanta Class of 2014 and recognized by the Daily Report as an Attorny on the Rise in 2013.  Mr. Goodmark currently sits on the State Bar of Georgia Children and the Courts Committee.  Mr. Goodmark is also member of the national organization for special education lawyers, the Council of Parent Attorneys & Advocates.  Mr. Goodmark is an honors graduate of the University of Florida College of Law where he participated in the initial TeamChild Clinic in Gainesville, Florida.

 picture of kimberly jackson

Kimberly Griffie Jackson, Esq. (FL) Kimberly Jackson, Esq. is a native of the suburbs of Illinois.  She attended Spelman College in Atlanta, GA, where she received her B.A. in Political Science with a minor in Communications.  Ms. Jackson attended law school locally at Stetson University College of Law.  While there she participated on the Jessup Moot Court Team and the Environmental Law Moot Court Team.  Ms. Jackson received her J.D. with a concentration in International Relations in 2002. Upon graduating, Ms. Jackson clerked for the Honorable Mary S. Scriven, then Magistrate Judge for the Middle District of Florida, (currently Federal Judge for the Middle District of Florida).  She then practiced in the primary area of civil trial litigation as an associate for the law firms of Abbey, Adams, in St. Petersburg, Florida, Stephens, Lynn in Tampa, Florida and as an Assistant City Attorney for the City of St. Petersburg.  In 2012 Ms. Jackson joined the St. Petersburg College Family as an adjunct professor in the Paralegal Program where she taught Civil Trial Litigation and an Introduction to Law course.  In 2015, she became the Academic Department Chair for Social and Behavioral Sciences for the Downtown and Midtown Campuses of St. Petersburg College.  She currently teaches American Government and the College Experience Course.  In her current role as Academic Department Chair she served as one of the lead professors for the Study Abroad Program to Vietnam, (Summer-2016), participated in programs with the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions and serves on the Quality Enhancement Committee.Ms. Jackson lives by the standard of, “we stand on the shoulders of those who come before us.”  She is an avid community leader and is involved in many civic organizations to include, Sustaining member of the Junior League of St. Petersburg, Neighborly Care Network, the St. Petersburg Free Clinic, Academy Prep, The St. Petersburg Arts Advisory Board Network, South Pinellas Autism Project and serves as a mentor for the Pinellas County School System.   Ms. Jackson is alumnae member of Leadership St. Petersburg, Class of 2004.  She also remains active in her service organizations, St. Petersburg Chapter of the Links, Inc., Jack and Jill, Inc. and Delta Sigma Theta, Inc.  In her spare time she enjoys reading, politics, traveling and spending time with her husband and children.


Monika Jones, J.D., (CA) is the visionary founder of The Brain Recovery Project: Childhood Epilepsy Surgery Foundation where she serves as its CEO. After her first son, Henry, surgery to remove the left half of his brain to stop drug-resistant seizures, she and her husband Brad founded The Brain Recovery Project to initiate and fund research to better understand neurorehabilitation and other issues after brain surgery to stop seizures. The organization's programs include a special education advocacy program which provides ten free hours of free IEP help for the parents of the community of children the organization serves. Monika served as the principal investigator under a R13 grant from the National Institutes of Health to support the 2014 scientific symposium on brain plasticity, hemispheric specialization, and neuro-rehabilitation after cerebral hemispherectomy. For most of her professional career, Monika was a litigator representing corporations in various matters, including lawsuits brought by employees, insurance coverage disputes, trademark infringement, or other contractual disputes. Monika is a graduate University of California at Los Angeles and received her juris doctorate from the University of Southern California, where she was class president. She is a founding board member of Watkins VITAL Care Program, an innovative new program that offers an educational environment for adults with moderate-to-severe autism who have aged out of the school system. She has served on the board of Portals, one of the oldest and largest mental health organizations in Los Angeles which offers mental health services in Central and South Los Angeles. Ms. Jones no longer practices law, focusing all her efforts on improving the quality of life, including educational opportunities, for children impacted by brain surgery to stop seizures.

photo of Michele Kule-Korgood  

Michele Kule-Korgood, Esq., (NY) is the founder and managing attorney of Kule-Korgood & Associates, P.C. Michele has devoted more than twenty years, in private practice, to representing parents of children with disabilities in order to secure an effective education for their children. While studying psychology as an undergraduate, Michele became a personal care assistant for a classmate with cerebral palsy.  Her classmate’s refusal to be defined by his disability inspired Michele to pursue a career in teaching special education.  Years later, as a special education teacher, Michele’s efforts to help a student obtain assistive technology, so he could have a voice in the world, again changed the course of her life. In order to effect change for a greater number of people, she decided to attend law school and become a legal advocate on behalf of people with disabilities.Today, Michele is one of the most well-known, respected attorneys in the field and has successfully handled thousands of matters in special education, ensuring that every child receives equal access to the high quality education to which he or she is entitled. Her experience working closely with other professionals in the field, as well as her extensive knowledge of educational programs, allow Michele to assist parents in finding and accessing appropriate placements and services.  As a former special educator, Michele brings unique insight into the complex issues related to obtaining effective opportunities for children. Michele is highly sought after as a speaker on special education law and policy. She has chaired many conferences, and presented on various topics in special education law at numerous conferences, including those held by the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), the New York State Bar Association, the Practicing Law Institute, Lehigh University, and at various agencies which provide education and advocacy services. Michele also serves on the board of the Center for Learning Differences. Michele has argued and presented cases involving novel issues in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Eastern and Southern District Courts, the Appellate Division and state Supreme Court (including as lead counsel, along with Greenberg, Traurig, in the landmark decision of Mr. and Mrs. A v. N.Y. City Dep’t of Educ., 769 F. Supp.2d 403, 428, 430 (S.D.N.Y. 2011), holding that the exercise of rights under IDEA cannot be made to depend on the financial means of a disabled child’s parents, and extending the right for direct tuition payment to parents without economic means pursuant to the Burlington/Carter analysis).  She has a number of published decisions in various courts in special education and additional education-related areas of law. Michele earned her Juris Doctor Degree from Hofstra University School of Law and prior to that obtained a Bachelor of Science Degree in Special Education and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology from Boston University.

 picture of smiling attorney with long blonde hair and white shirt

Jennifer D. Laviano, (CT) holds a B.A. in English Literature from Skidmore College and earned her J.D., cum laude, from Quinnipiac University School of Law. Jennifer Laviano is an attorney in private practice in Connecticut who focuses on the representation of children and adolescents under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Her representation includes attendance at IEP team meetings and mediation and zealous advocacy in litigation in due process hearings and federal court.  Attorney Laviano is a regular presenter, locally and nationally, on the Civil Rights of students with disabilities, and is the co-author of the popular book, Your Special Education Rights:  What Your School District Isn't Telling You.

 picture of african american woman with long dark hair smiling

Shenikwa Medlock (TX) Mrs. Medlock has been a Special Education Advocate since 2012 and Member of State Bar of Texas Paralegal Division.  Married for 21+ years, mother to (4) children from adults to primary age with varying ranges of disabilities.  As well as COPAA Co-Chair of Social Racial Equity Committee, SEAT Graduate and earned advanced Advocate training distinction.  Mrs. Medlock assists public school students in Head start, Independent School District (ISD), Charter School, Cooperative School Districts and Special Education Departments, Shared Services Arrangement (SSA), Juvenile Justice Detention Alternative Education Program (JJAEP), Disciplinary Alternative Education Program (DAEP), Private School / Proportionate Share and Home School / Home School Cooperatives having challenges with the local education agency.  As well as assisting students in college and vocational programs with difficulties encountered while attending school.
Volunteer and Training activities:

Member of Council of Parents, Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA)
COPAA's Special Education Advocacy Training Program (SEAT) Graduate
COPAA’s Advanced Advocate Distinction
National Alliance on Mental Illness Affiliate Leadership
Member of the State of Texas Bar Association Paralegal Division
Speaker with Council of Parents Attorneys and Advocates Main and Pre Conference Speaker since 2017


 picture of Catherine Reisman

Catherine Merino Reisman, Esq., (NJ) is a founding partner of Reisman Carolla Gran LLP, providing consultation and guidance regarding the legal rights of children and adults with disabilities. She has represented clients in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and nationally in administrative hearings as well as federal and state court. Upon graduation from law school, she was a clerk to the Honorable Edward N. Cahn, Chief Judge for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Ms. Merino Reisman then practiced employment law at a small Philadelphia firm for several years. Prior to forming Reisman Carolla Gran, she was “Of Counsel” to a regional mid-sized law firm, where she co-chaired the Special Education practice group in addition to handling appellate, commercial and employment litigation. Ms. Merino Reisman is a past Chair and a member of the Board of Directors of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates ("COPAA"), a national independent, nonprofit, tax-exempt organization of attorneys, advocates and parents. Ms. Merino Reisman is Co-Chair of COPAA's Amicus and Committee. She serves on the Board of SPANNER, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for young people with developmental disabilities in South Jersey. She is a former parent member of the Program Advisory Board to the New Jersey Coalition for Inclusive Education. Ms. Merino Reisman speaks regularly to groups of parents and attorneys regarding special education, civil rights, and disability rights.

picture of ellen saideman 

Ellen Saideman, Esq. (RI)has more than thirty years of experience with litigation and legal writing, both as an attorney and as a professor of legal writing.  She is admitted to the bar in four states (Florida, Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island) as well as six federal district and circuit courts.   She has done special education work, including IDEA due process cases, in all four states.   She has worked as a civil rights and disability rights attorney since 1986 when she joined the New York City Commission on Human Rights.  She served as Deputy Director and then Director of the Equal Employment and Public Accommodation Division, where she oversaw the intake and investigation of discrimination complaints.  She then joined New York Lawyers for the Public Interest as a staff attorney in its disability rights unit.   Her work there included Burr v. Sobol, which established compensatory education as a remedy for special education and also attorneys’ fees for administrative hearings under IDEA.   She also trained private bar attorneys to do special education cases and provided them with support.  When NYLPI established its Disability Law Center, Ellen became Director.   Under her leadership, NYLPI filed four of the first ADA Title II complaints with the U.S. Department of Justice, including a case that resulted in making the Empire State Building’s observation deck accessible.  In Florida, she worked for Legal Services for Greater Miami for a year and then worked for the Advocacy Center for Persons with Disabilities (now Disability Rights Florida).  There, her work included special education cases as well as class action lawsuits, including Prado-Steiman v. Bush, which resulted in a settlement that required Florida’s Medicaid program to improve and expand its Home and Community based Waiver program for people with developmental disabilities. After moving to Rhode Island, she taught legal writing at Roger Williams University School of Law for thirteen years and also continued disability rights work, both in Florida and Rhode Island. She now has a private practice that includes special education.   She often works with the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, the Disability Law Center of Massachusetts, Rhode Island Legal Services, and the Rhode Island Disability Law Center, both on individual cases and on systemic law reform work including special education. Ellen is a member of the COPAA amicus committee and has co-authored two amicus briefs for COPAA as well as numerous other amicus briefs for other organizations.  She was the main author of an amicus curiae brief for the National Disability Rights Network, the National Federation of the Blind, and the National Coalition of the Deaf in a Fifth Circuit case involving IEEs.  She has also provided training in legal writing, special education, and IEEs to NDRN, COPAA, and other organizations.   


picture of woman with dark hair, dark eyes 


Denise Smith (TX) -  Denise Smith is a mother of five children and grandmother to eight grandchildren. She has been an advocate for children with special needs, beginning with her own children for more than a decade. In her work with the schools, she has brought in experts from local, state, and national levels to speak with and educate law enforcement and school personnel in the specific needs of children with special needs. She is a former Board Member for the Autism Society of Central Texas. Denise has worked tirelessly to provide free and reduced costs services in advocacy  and related topics to her community. She has completed the SEAT training through COPAA and has been a volunteer at COPAA for many years. In her current position, Denise continues to work with families of children with special needs to help them get the services they need for their children to become successful adults.





 photo of jon zimring Jonathan Zimring, Esq. (GA) is a principal in the Zimring Law Firm with a primary practice in education law. Mr. Zimring a 1974 graduate of Duke University School of Law was Director of the Georgia Mental Disability Law Project, a program funded by the ABA Commission on Mental Disability to provide representation to persons with disabilities. He was education law specialist for the Georgia Legal Services Program. He has been chairman of the State Bar of Georgia Mental Health and the Law Committee, the ABA/Younger Lawyer's Section on Handicapped and the Law, and Chairman of the School and College Law Section of the State Bar of Georgia.  He has presented in numerous Continuing Legal Education programs for judges, attorneys and educators on educational rights, special education and civil rights issues. He was guardian ad litem in Olmstead v. L.C. and E.W. ex rel Zimring, 527 U.S. 581(1999), which established the definition of discrimination under the ADA.A sample of other cases under the special education laws include: Georgia Ass’n. for Retarded Citizens v. McDaniel,  716 F.2d  1565 (11th  Cir.1983) (extended school year services for children); Georgia Conference of Branches of NAACP v. State of Georgia, 775 F.2nd  1403  (11th  Cir. 1985) (inappropriate placement of children of color in special education classes);  Mitten v. Muscogee County School District, et. al., 877 F.2d 932 (11th Cir. 1989), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 1072 (1990) (independent claim for attorney fees and costs);  Greer v. Rome City School Dist., 950 F.2d 688(11th Cir. 1991) (least restrictive environment);Walker County School District v. Bennett, 203 F.3d. 1293 (11th Cir.), cert denied, 121 S.Ct. 670 (2000) (procedure for the trial of IDEA cases);Georgia Department of Education v. Derrick C., 314 F.3d 545 (11th Cir. 2002) (provision of services to 3 year old disabled students). Mr. Zimring is on the COPAA Board of Directors and co-chair of COPAA’s publication committee.


The COPAA Board adopted the following goals in the Strategic Plan for 2016-2020:

GOAL 1:  COPAA has an active community of 2,500 members.
GOAL 2:  COPAA is a diverse civil rights organization with a membership reflective of the community we represent.
GOAL 3:  COPAA assures each child eligible for services and supports has an equal opportunity to a quality education. 
GOAL 4:  COPAA has the capacity to provide direct legal intervention and support on priority issues.
GOAL 5:  COPAA is the national authority and resource on educational rights of students with disabilities and their families.
GOAL 6:  COPAA has an annual operating budget of >$1,000,000.00.

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