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Breakout Session I - Saturday 3/10/18 at 10:45 AM - 12:00 PM


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1.1 Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1, The Establishment - and Its Impact - of a Substantive Standard for a FAPE

Jack D. Robinson
Spies, Powers & Robinson, P.C.
950 South Cherry St., Suite 700
Denver, CO 80246

Audience category: Attorney

Audience level of expertise: Intermediate/Advanced

Brief session description:

The Supreme Court's recent decision in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1 established, for the first time, a standard for determining when a school district has meet its substantive obligation of providing a FAPE under the IDEA.  Presented by Counsel of Record for Endrew F., this session explores the creation of this new standard, discuss its meaning, and examines how the standard is likely to be applied in IEPs, administrative hearings and civil actions.

Presenter(s) Biography(ies):

Jack D. Robinson, is an attorney and co-founder of the law firm Spies, Powers & Robinson, P.C., where his primary practice area is special education law and educational discrimination. Mr. Robinson has been representing the interests of children with disabilities and their parents for over twenty years and is a frequent lecturer on the application and construction of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.  He has represented clients in numerous due process proceedings, civil actions, and appeals. Mr. Robinson is counsel of record for the student and his parents in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1, a case in which the United States Supreme Court’s decision in favor of the student established a substantive standard for a free appropriate public education and, in so doing, greatly expanded the rights of all children with disabilities. Mr. Robinson is the founder of the Colorado Council of Special Education Lawyers and is a former member of the Colorado Special Education Advisory Committee.

1.2 Obtaining Quality Independent Education Evaluations: Practical Advocacy Tips

Ellen Saideman, Esq.
Ellen Saideman Law Office
7 Henry Drive
Barrington, RI  02806
Office/Mobile: (401) 258-7276
Fax: (401) 709-0213

Michele G. Scavongelli, Esq.
Morgan, Lewis & Bockius EdLaw Fellow
The EdLaw Project
44 Bromfield Street, Second Floor
Boston, MA  02108
Office: (617) 910-5845
Mobile: (978) 505-1844
Fax: (978) 268-5145

Audience category: All

Audience Level of Expertise: All

Brief Session Description:To win a dispute with a school district, parents need an expert with the firepower to match the opposition. For most parents, using IDEA to gain school district funding of an Independent Education Evaluation (IEE) is necessary to obtain such an expert. This session provides practical tips on how to obtaining a quality IEE despite school district opposition.

Presenter(s) Biography(ies):

Ellen Saideman has nearly thirty years of experience with special education and disability rights litigation.  She is a COPAA Board member and co-chair of the COPAA Amicus Committee.  She has practiced special education in four states:  Florida, Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island.   She is also admitted to five federal district courts, four federal circuit courts, and the Supreme Court.  She has written many briefs and motions, including numerous amicus briefs for COPAA.  On the topic of IEEs, she wrote 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, Seth B. v. Orleans Parish School Board, 810 F.3d 961 (5th Cir. 2016), which resulted in reversal of the district court’s decision to deny public funding of an IEE.  She spent more than twelve years teaching legal writing at Roger Williams University School of Law, and she has also provided training in legal writing to attorneys and advocates at COPAA and also at NDRN.  She has presented at COPAA’s annual conference on several occasions.  In 2000, for her legal work in Florida, including litigation that achieved dramatic expansion and reform of the Medicaid Home and Community-Based Waiver for individuals with developmental disabilities, she received Florida ARC’s Marvin Finkel Memorial Advocacy Award and the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council’s Outstanding Mentor/Advocate Award.

Michele Scavongelli joined the EdLaw Project as an Equal Justice Works Fellow, sponsored by Bingham McCutchen, LLP in September 2012, and has continued on as a staff attorney through a Morgan, Lewis & Bockius Fellowship since September 2014. Michele has successfully represented over one hundred families in the past five years in both school discipline and special education matters.  She has built a pro bono panel for The EdLaw Project and has trained hundreds of delinquency, child welfare, firm, and in-house counsel, as well as parent and community groups in special education advocacy and school discipline rights.  Michele graduated Northeastern University School of Law in 2012. During law school, Ms. Scavongelli was a recipient of a Rappaport Fellowship at the Massachusetts Office of the Child Advocate and a recipient of a Hennessey Fellowship at the Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee. She interned at the Lowell Juvenile Court as well as at the law firm of Kotin, Crabtree & Strong, LLP with a particular focus on special education law. Ms. Scavongelli also assisted victims of domestic violence at the Dorchester and Roxbury Municipal Courts and at Boston Medical Center and St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. She has served as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) and as a Special Education Surrogate Parent. Prior to attending law school she spent 29 years as an executive in the life insurance industry. She is on the board of Bottom Line, an organization that is dedicated to helping disadvantaged students get in to college, graduate from college, and go far in life. She earned her S.B. in Mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1979.

1.3 Challenging Racial Disparities in Special Education

David Jefferson
Founder – Parent Support Arizona
Phone Number: (480) 382-4020
Email Address: david@parentsupportarizona.com

Shenikwa Medlock
Non-Attorney Advocate - Cirkiel & Associates, P.C.
Phone Number: (214) 763-6646
Email Address: smedlock@cirkielaw.com

Audience Category: All

Audience level of expertise: Novice/Intermediate

Brief Session Description:This session explores how disproportionality affects students of color, and how racial disparities within special education are part of a larger system that unfairly targets this population, preventing access to an equal education.  Included is a historical perspective on (the lack of) racial justice within the special education system and strategies on how advocates and attorneys can use this knowledge to effect long term systemic change.

Presenter(s) Biography(ies):

David Jefferson, as 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. David is also active in the community and serves on the Board of Directors for several non-profit organizations including:  The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates,  Reach Family Services, a “Family Run” behavioral Health Agency, The NAGI Foundation, Addressing the animal welfare needs of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, The Parent Education Network Phoenix

Shenikwa Medlock, married for 19+ years and Mom of 4 kids ranging in ages from 7-17 with special needs (Autism, Audio Processing, ADHD, Autism, Twice Exceptional and Sensory Processing Disorder).  She understands from a personal level about how having a child with a disability affects every aspect of your life.  Mrs. Medlock's motto is "First do no harm".  She strives to leave parents, caregivers, and/ or guardians better and more empowered.  Her brand of advocacy takes the entire family into consideration. She is experienced in navigating not only special education system (IEP, ARD, 504 plan, etc.) and its complaint process (IEP, ARD, OCR, ADA, Due Process, Texas Education Agency, and School Board complaint).  She is knowledgeable about Individual Family and Service Plan (IFSP), Medicaid Waiver Programs, and Transition planning.  And, she navigated complaints through Texas Workforce (appointed Transition agency for students with disabilities) DADS in reference to Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) - IDEA Part C, Local Mental Agency, Health and Human Services (complaints specific to Medicaid and Affordable Healthcare Act), Texas Department of Insurance and Medicaid Waiver program. Experienced with Person Centered Planning, Micro-board, and Grant funding resources for private therapeutic services for parents in need in order to improve outcomes for children and adults with disabilities.Mrs. Medlock is a COPAA SEAT graduate.  She volunteers as a Parent Leader with Partners Resource Network (Parent Training Information and Resource Center of Texas) and Parent Match volunteer with Texas Parent 2 Parent.

1.4 An Advocate's Guide to Dyslexia

Rebecca Saitz, Ed.S/M.S.
Feeney Law Office, PLLC
1177 Jadwin Avenue, Ste. 104
Richland, WA 99352
(561) 756-7614


Kerri Feeney, M.Ed, Attorney at Law
Feeney Law Office, PLLC
1177 Jadwin Avenue, Ste. 104
Richland, WA 99352
(509) 946-5200


Audience category: All
Audience level of expertise: All

Brief Session Description:
This session provides an overview of Dyslexia; including prevailing theories regarding the etiology, key aspects of assessment, samples of state/educational agency guidelines, and relevant case law.

Presenter(s) Biography(ies): Rebecca Saitz, Ed.S/M.S, is a graduate of the COPAA Special Education Advocate Training program and a certified School Psychologist (Florida, Oregon, and Washington). She is a former Oregon Intervention Systems (OIS) certified instructor. OIS is “Oregon’s system of training and implementing the principles of Positive Behavior Support and Intervention to students” with behavioral and/or cognitive challenges. She graduated with a combined Ed.S/M.S (Counseling in Human Services with a specialization in School Psychology) from The Florida State University. While there, Ms. Saitz was a two-term President of the Counseling and Psychological Services in Education Graduate Student Association. She was also selected by her peers to act as the Intern Representative of her local association. Ms. Saitz later received advanced graduate training in the psychology of performance from Barry University, and successfully completed a Mental Conditioning internship with Evert Tennis Academy. Ms. Saitz currently consults for Feeney Law Office, PLLC in Washington, advocating for the civil rights of students with a focus on research and evaluation.

Kerri W. Feeney, MEd, Attorney at Law, provides representation throughout Eastern Washington in all areas of disabilities law, with a practice focus on special education litigation.  In 2014, Kerri completed training as a mediator through Harvard Law School’s Program on Negotiation. In 2015, the Washington State Association of Justice named Kerri the Public Justice Lawyer of the Year for her work advocating on behalf of students with disabilities.  She presents regularly on the topics of dispute resolution, ethics and special education. Kerri is admitted to practice in the Eastern and Western District Courts of Washington, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court.

1.5 Understanding the Unique Needs of Military Families with Special Needs

Sarah Davis
Founder, Parent Advocacy Consortium
3416 Blandford Way
Davidsonville, MD 21035

Robert Berlow
Senior Attorney with Disability Rights Maryland
13756 Triadelphia Mill Road
Clarksville, MD 21029

Miguel Mercado
Co-Founder, Parent Advocacy Consortium
7971 Delores Court
Chesapeake Beach MD 20732

Audience category: All 

Audience level of expertise: Novice/Intermediate

Brief Session Description: This session addresses the unique challenges faced by military service members, their spouses and children in obtaining an appropriate education for children with disabilities and the differences between federal IDEA regulations applicable in public schools and the IDEA regulations that apply in DoDEA schools.

Presenter(s) Biography(ies):

Sarah Davis is the parent of multiple special needs children, an advocate, and a COPAA Special Education Advocacy Training (SEAT) program alumni.  Sarah was raised in Kakamega, Kenya where she developed a deep appreciation of the impact of poverty and the value of education.  She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in business administration.  Sarah served as an Arabic linguist in the United States Air Force and continues to play an active role as military spouse supporting her family through multiple deployments and military moves.  In 2016, Sarah and Miguel Mercado founded Parent Advocacy Consortium, an organization raising parent voice in advocacy of their special needs children.  Sarah is actively engaged in raising public awareness of the challenges faced by children with disabilities and promoting cultural change.  She participates in legislative and local policy advocacy and firmly believes children with disabilities have the right to receive an equal benefit from their educational experience.

Robert Berlow has been a Senior Attorney with Disability Rights Maryland since 2006 specializing in Special Education Law.  Prior to that Mr. Berlow was a staff attorney at The Children’s Law Center in Washington D.C. where he also maintained a private special education practice.  In 40 years of legal practice Mr. Berlow has practiced in state and federal courts and administrative agencies.  In addition to individual actions Mr. Berlow has represented plaintiffs in three class actions in federal court in Washington D.C.  In 2006 he joined DRM as lead counsel in Vaughn G v. Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners a then 20 year old case challenging the failure by Baltimore City Public Schools to comply with the IDEA.  Mr. Berlow obtained a grant from a military contractor which allowed him to reach out to and provide training for military personnel stationed in Maryland.  Mr. Berlow served on COPAA’s Board of directors from ? to ? where he was co-chair of the Government Relations Committee, drafted most of COPAA’s comments on IDEA regulations implementing the 2004 amendments and COPAA’s comments on the DoDEA IDEA regulations.

Miguel Mercado is from the Los Angeles area and currently resides in Calvert County, Maryland.  Miguel and his family recently retired from the Marine Corps where Miguel spent more than half his service time deployed or preparing to deploy. During his retirement transition, Miguel started what he would find to be the most challenging part of his life, ensuring his children receive a FAPE.  Miguel blamed the lack of FAPE on his lack of training and took up what would be the most challenging task which was to learn there were no IEDs on the IEP table, no enemy lines, and that he would need a good IDEA translator to maintain the chain of command. Miguel aggressively pursued training and developed networks with others working towards the goal of a FAPE.  Together, Miguel and Sarah Davis founded Parent Advocacy Consortium as a mechanism to facilitate parent-to-parent network and organize parents as a key stakeholder.  Miguel chairs the Special Education Citizens Advisory Committee and is a Council Member of the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Council.  He is also a member of the Citizens Advisory Committee, LEADer's alumni and civil rights activist.  Miguel holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and is pursuing a dual masters degree.  Miguel continues to serve his country as a Program Security Officer at the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

1.6 School-to-Prison Pipeline, Push Out, and Students with Disabilities: Advocating for the Educational Needs of Adolescents with Behavior Challenges

Jamie Schulte
LAF (Legal Assistance Foundation)
Skadden Fellow/Attorney
120 S. LaSalle St., Suite 900
Chicago, Illinois 60603
Email: jschulte@lafchicago.org

Katherine Gladson
LAF (Legal Assistance Foundation)
Staff Attorney
120 S. LaSalle St., Suite 900
Chicago, Illinois 60603
Email: kgladson@lafchicago.org

Matthew Hiltibran
LAF (Legal Assistance Foundation)
Staff Attorney
120 S. LaSalle St., Suite 900
Chicago, Illinois 60603
Email: mhiltibran@lafchicago.org

Audience category: Attorney/Advocate
Audience level of expertise: Novice/Intermediate
Brief Session Description:

The school-to-prison pipeline and school push out harm children and communities across the country and have a significantly disproportionate impact on students with disabilities. This session provides an overview of the problem and the effect on students with disabilities; highlights common issues adolescents with behavior-related disabilities may experience; and, provides strategies and advocacy tips.  Also highlighted are collateral issues and resources for students who are justice involved about which advocates should be aware, such as expungement of juvenile records under state law.

Presenter(s) Biography(ies):

Jamie Schulte is a Skadden Fellow at LAF where she tackles issues incurred by the informal “push out” of high school students, especially those students with a history of behavior issues, poor attendance, or low achievement. Specifically, Jamie represents students who attend, or are being encouraged to attend, Chicago Public Schools’ alternative or “Options Schools” in special education, school discipline, and enrollment disputes. Jamie previously clerked for the Honorable Gregg Costa of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit after graduating from the University of Chicago Law School with high honors.  Prior to becoming an attorney, Jamie taught middle school English for two years in Houston, Texas through the Teach for America program. She has a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Notre Dame.

Katherine Gladson is staff attorney at LAF, and represents foster youth and other children in state care in special education, school discipline, and other education matters.  Before becoming a staff attorney, Kate completed a two-year fellowship at LAF through Equal Justice Works.  Her fellowship project aimed to protect the educational rights of students who were adversely affected by the 2013 Chicago school closings.  Before law school, Katherine taught middle school math in the Kansas City, Missouri School District.  Katherine graduated from Loyola University Chicago School of Law magna cum laude and is a member of Alpha Sigma Nu.  While in law school she was a Civitas ChildLaw Fellow and represented children in education matters, family law cases, and in abuse and neglect proceedings through the Loyola ChildLaw Clinic.  She has a B.A. in English Writing from DePauw University.

Matthew Hiltibran is staff attorney at LAF, and represents foster youth and other children in state care in special education, school discipline, and other education matters. He also manages LAF’s Juvenile Expungement Help Desk in Cook County Juvenile Court in Chicago.  Before becoming a staff attorney, Matt worked at the Cook County Public Defender through a Catalyst Fellowship.  Before law school, Matt worked as a foster care caseworker in Cook County, IL and at a hospice in Washington, DC.  Matt graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School magna cum laude.  He has a B.A. in International Relations and a certificate in Urban Studies from Wheaton College, IL.


1.7 When School Attorneys Attack

Sonja D. Kerr, Attorney at Law
Director of Impact Litigation, Cuddy Law Firm,
8723 Shoal Creek Blvd
Austin TX 78757

Dorene Philpot, Attorney at Law
Philpot Law Office, P.C.
7314 Offats Pointe
Galveston, TX 77551

Audience category: Attorney
Audience level of expertise: intermediate/Advanced
Brief Session Description:

IDEA hearings were not originally envisioned as fights to the death, rather cases that were more informal and focused on the children at issue. Instead, at times, IDEA hearings have become all-out war in a way that most practitioners have never envisioned. Abuses can include personal and professional attacks, abuse of discovery, lack of cooperation on even the most mundane issues which escalates the time and costs and which can create unnecessary and burdensome delays. It can also lead to practitioners leaving the special education area of practice. The presenters provide a format for discussion of the types of tactics that attorneys in this area of law have encountered and  strategies that have been used successfully to combat such behavior.

Presenter(s) Biography(ies):
Sonja D. Kerr
is Director of Impact Litigation with the Cuddy Law firm. She was previously Director of Disability Rights for the prestigious Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia. The daughter of a deaf parent, and sister of a person with epilepsy, Ms. Kerr learned about disabilities firsthand early in her life. Ms. Kerr is a 1987 graduate of Indiana University School of Law. Ms. Kerr was honored to serve as the first chair of the nationwide Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) and continues to be involved with COPAA. Ms. Kerr provides representation through both class actions and individual representations. Recent cases include several individual due process cases in Texas with systemic implications, cases in Pennsylvania including an individual case on significance of assistive technology, an individual case concerning nursing services for a student with multiple impairments, a class action concerning ESY in Pennsylvania, a class action against the State of Pennsylvania to ensure funding for an impoverished school district, and a class on behalf of students with autism in the School District of Philadelphia requiring parental participation in school placement decisions. Ms. Kerr has been involved in litigation to protect the rights of Limited English Proficient parents, and regarding the misidentification and disproportionate placement of non-Caucasian students into special education. Ms. Kerr is committed to providing information and training to all persons involved in the IEP process, but especially parents, their attorneys and advocates. She is a frequent writer and lecturer on special education issues. Ms. Kerr is a Summa Cum Laude graduate of Northwest Nazarene University in Idaho, where she completed her B.A. in Psychology, and completed a Masters in Counseling Psychology at Purdue University. Ms. Kerr is admitted to practice in Texas, Indiana, Alaska, Pennsylvania, Minnesota (non-active by choice), the 8th, 9th, 3rd, and 5th circuits, and various federal courts within same, the United States Supreme Court and has been specially admitted in various other states, circuit courts of appeals and jurisdictions.

Dorene Philpot is a private practice attorney based in Galveston, Texas. She devotes her practice entirely to representing special needs children and their parents under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act. She is the recipient of the national 2012 Diane Lipton Award for Outstanding Educational Advocacy from COPAA (Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates). She is the author of "Do-It-Yourself Special Education Due Process: An Educational Guide" which is available at www.learningenabledpublications.com. She is licensed in Texas and Indiana. She is admitted to the federal courts in the Northern and Southern Districts of Indiana and the Northern, Eastern, Southern and Western Districts of Texas. She is also admitted to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. She is a member of Mensa. She gives presentations to parent groups and other organizations on a regular basis about special education law rights of children. Before becoming a lawyer, Dorene was a journalist for 13 years, most recently serving as an editor at The Indianapolis Star and Indianapolis News. Before that, she worked as an editor at other newspapers and magazines, including The Saturday Evening Post.

1.8 Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me a Match: Attorneys and Advocates

Tania L. Whiteleather
Law Offices of Tania L. Whiteleather
5445 Del Amo Blvd., Suite 207
Lakewood, CA, 90712

Hadassah Lynn Foster
H&H Associates
27240 Turnberry Lane, Suite 200
Valencia, CA 91355

Audience category: Attorney/Advocate

Audience level of expertise: Intermediate/Advanced

Brief Session Description:

Special education attorneys and advocates provide parents of children with disabilities with two different, yet synergetic services. Working together offers both pluses and minus for both parties as well as increasing the numbers of students receiving FAPE. Attorneys routinely engage individuals to provide support services from office managers, paralegals and expert witnesses. Engaging support staff increases an attorney’s ability to concentrate efforts on providing clients with high quality outcomes. And in special education law, special education advocates, working with attorneys as paralegals, can greatly increase those outcomes.

Presenter(s) Biography(ies):

Tania Whiteleather has practiced law for over twenty-six years, coming from a background in education where she taught in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Returning to school, she completed her juris doctor in 1989 and began a practice in family law and probate. After representing a family member with a disability, she entered the practice of special education and related litigation.  She is admitted to the four federal district courts of California as well as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and is a member of the Los Angeles County 317e Panel which provides court-appointed counsel to students with disabilities in the juvenile justice system.Ms. Whiteleather has presented to parents, schools, and court groups regarding various special education topics and has served and serves on the boards of several non-profit agencies including Su Casa, Ending Domestic Violence, the Weingart-Lakewood YMCA, the Lakewood Regional Medical Center, and her local Lakewood Rotary Club

Hadassah Lynn Foster is a non-attorney, lay advocate recently recognized as paralegal by District Court Judge Michael Fitzgerald. Following a successful career as a federally-licensed customs broker (representing importers and exporters to many federal and state agencies as well as being licensed to represent clients in the U.S. Court of International Trade), she returned to school to complete a bachelor’s degree – unaware that as a disabled student, she was beginning her career as an educational advocate. Over the years, Ms. Foster has gained expertise in assistive technologies, post-secondary transition and advocacy strategies. A graduate of COPAA’s SEAT program, she serves on the COPAA Training Committee, is a board member of the Santa Clarita Friends of the Library, has mentored SEAT advocates-in-training and has recently volunteered for the Juvenile Division of the Los Angeles Superior Court as an educational rights holder for youth in the dependency and/or youth justice courts. She has many years of experience presenting to international trade groups, university faculty, staff and students, parents and advocates on a variety of topics including special education and continues to assist current SEAT participants with their practicums.

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