Symposium Faculty

Tanya Alvarado, J.D. (Pennsylvania)

Ms. Alvarado is the founder of Law Office of Tanya A. Alvarado, LLC, and has applied her legal expertise to help hundreds of children with disabilities for over 25 years.  Her firm is dedicated exclusively to representing families of children with special needs to secure appropriate special education services and assisting persons with disabilities to obtain reasonable accommodations for entrance, licensing, and certification examinations. Ms. Alvarado was born in Ecuador and as an attorney who is both culturally Latina and fluent in Spanish, has successfully represented Spanish-speaking families throughout Pennsylvania.

Having two siblings with disabilities, Ms. Alvarado devoted her legal career to pursuing equal opportunities and protections against discriminatory treatment. Early in her career as a staff attorney at Disabilities Law Project, Ms. Alvarado ensured the integration of persons with disabilities in their communities by securing reasonable accommodations, removing barriers, and eradicating policies that have a disparate impact. She has helped employees with disabilities gain protection from discriminatory treatment and challenged zoning regulations that preclude persons with disabilities from accessing housing.

For the majority of her career, Ms. Alvarado has helped children obtain appropriate special education services, placements in the least restrictive environment, independent educational evaluations, compensatory education and tuition reimbursement, among other remedies.  As a former Senior Shareholder at McAndrews Law Offices, Ms. Alvarado has litigated her client’s cases from administrative due process hearings to federal court appeals. She brings her considerable experience and longstanding passion to her legal practice.

Ms. Alvarado has served on the Pennsylvania Bar Association Committees of Legal Services for Exceptional Children and Legal Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  As a member of the Boards of Disability Rights Network and Reach Out and Read, she has helped steer organizational policies and made literacy available to our youngest children. Ms. Alvarado is published in the Pennsylvania Bar Association Quarterly and L.R.P. Publication, and is featured in newspapers, podcasts, and Puerto Rican Panorama, a talk show addressing the concerns of the Latinx population.

Ms. Alvarado is a graduate of Cornell University and earned her Juris Doctor from Boston University School of Law. She is admitted to practice before the bars of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the United States District Courts for the Eastern and Middle Districts of Pennsylvania, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Through her commitment to ensuring equal opportunities for children with disabilities, she has altered the trajectory of the lives of children, enabling them to realize their potential and achieve their dreams.

Hope Blackburn, J.D. (New Jersey)

Hope Blackburn primarily focuses her practice in Education Law. She has decades of experience providing legal representation to dozens of public school boards, various educational institutions and school administrators. She also has experience handling matters related to labor and employment, public law, contract negotiation and drafting, governance, and litigation.

Prior to joining Scarinci Hollenbeck, Ms. Blackburn served as General Counsel for Jersey City (NJ) Public Schools, where she provided advice and counsel to the Jersey City Board of Education in all areas of school district operations, ranging from public procurement to student due process and was responsible for providing legal guidance to transition the District back to local control.

Ms. Blackburn is the former Director of Purchase and Property for the State of New Jersey, a former Assistant Counsel in the Office of Governor’s Counsel, and was Special Assistant for Policy and Planning to the Commissioner of Education, responsible for managing the Englewood School District regionalization study. As the Director of the Bureau of Controversies and Disputes for the Department of Education, she co-authored the Commissioner’s decision creating the State-operated Newark Public Schools. Ms. Blackburn subsequently served as part of the Newark Public Schools transition team and as the General Counsel for the Newark Public Schools.

Ms. Blackburn is a Trustee of the Educational Leadership Foundation on New Jersey (ELFNJ), immediate past President of the New Jersey Association of School Attorneys, and a member of the New Jersey State Bar Association, the New Jersey Women Lawyers Association and the National Association of Women Lawyers. She is co-chair of the Princeton Prize in Race Relations for Northern New Jersey and is a member of the Asperger’s Parents Education Network. Ms. Blackburn earned her Juris Doctor from the Villanova University School of Law, having earned her undergraduate degree from Princeton University, where she majored in History.


Maria Blaeuer, J.D. (Maryland)

Maria Blaeuer is a Staff Attorney at Advocates for Justice and Education, the District of Columbia’s federally designated Parent Training and Information Center.

She has spent most of her legal career in private practice focusing on special education law and the needs of students with disabilities in low-to-moderate income communities.  As part of that practice, she has provided professional development and continuing education about special education to attorneys, teachers and other service providers in the District of Columbia, Virginia, Massachusetts, Illinois and Pennsylvania.  In her current role, Ms. Blaeuer works with schools and families to ensure that students receive the best education possible under the law.  She brings a unique perspective to this role, having participated in the IEP and special education process as a student with an IEP herself, as a teacher of students with disabilities, as a parent, and now at AJE, as an attorney for students and families.

She obtained her Bachelor’s degree with honors from Virginia Commonwealth University, earned her law degree from Howard University School of Law and is pursing a Master’s degree in Education Policy.  Ms. Blaeuer is a native of the Washington D.C. region, and serves as an appointed member of the Montgomery County, MD Commission on Juvenile Justice, and the Lawyer Assistance Committee of the D.C. Bar. She is also on the board of a small charter school serving at-risk, and over-age and under-credited students.

Ms. Blaeuer lives near Montgomery County, MD’s agricultural reserve with her husband, three children, and the family’s cats, dogs, and chickens.

Mary Ann Carroll, J.D. (Rhode Island)

Mary Ann Carroll began practicing law after a thirty year career in education.  She held various positions in public school education from teacher to Superintendent.  She also spent two years working at Harmony Hill School in Glocester, Rhode Island which is a residential school for boys who have emotional and behavioral issues.   Due to her extensive educational background she concentrates her practice in educational law and along with her partners, Andrew Henneous and Aubrey Lombardo, represents numerous school committees in Rhode Island   She has been practicing special education law throughout the state of Rhode Island for the past fifteen years. She has successfully argued two cases in the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

Carroll also has a lengthy Family Court practice where she represents clients in all aspects of divorce, child support and custody, as well as juvenile matters.

Mary Ann Carroll has also served as a member of the Glocester Town Council, as a State Representative, and as a member of the Glocester and Foster Glocester School Committees.

Edward D’Addio, M.A., M.Ed. (Connecticut)

Edward D’Addio has over 25 years of professional experience in public education serving as a teacher, school counselor and administrator.  For the past five years, Ed has worked as a School Counseling Department Supervisor and District Administrator for Section 504.

He has obtained multiple grants to support student equity and engagement and is the recipient of the West Hartford Public Schools Keeper of the Light Award; an award that recognizes and honors staff for their exemplary practice, professionalism and dedication to excellence.

Committed to community service, Ed is a Board Member of Abilities without Boundaries, a non-profit organization that helps people with disabilities achieve independence, self-sufficiency, community participation and personal satisfaction through employment and day support services.

Ed holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, a Master’s Degree in Arts and Teaching, a Master’s Degree in School Counseling, and a 6th Year Degree in Educational Leadership.  He lives in Connecticut with his wife and two children.

Gina DeCrescenzo, J.D. (New York)

Gina M. DeCrescenzo is the founder of GDPC, a litigation and advocacy firm dedicated to protecting the civil rights of children. She built the firm on years of civil litigation experience and an unparalleled passion for improving the lives of children.

Before founding GDPC, Gina worked as the only Special Education Attorney at a private litigation firm in Dutchess County, NY and before that as the sole Special Education Attorney at Legal Services of the Hudson Valley representing low-income children and young adults with disabilities throughout Westchester, Putnam and Rockland counties. Prior to her work exclusively with children and young adults with special needs, Gina represented hundreds of clients in eviction proceedings and foreclosure actions, gaining national recognition in The New York Times.

Gina was named a Super Lawyer, Rising Star in 2017 and 2018, she is considered a Lawyer of Distinction in Special Education Law, she was named a Top 40 under 40 National Trial Lawyer, and was featured in Westchester Magazine’s 914 Inc. as a Wunderkind.

Gina received her Juris Doctor from Pace Law School and her Bachelors of Science from Fordham University. She is admitted to the United States Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, the State Court of New York, and the U.S. District Courts for the Northern, Southern and Eastern Districts of New York. She is a member of numerous associations related to children and civil rights, most notably: Disability Rights Bar Association, American Bar Association’s Children’s Rights Litigation Committee, New York State Bar Association, Westchester Women’s Bar Association’s Education Law Committee, and Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (“COPAA”). She also serves on the Board of Directors of Family Focus Adoption Services and Parents United Learning the Special Education System (“PULSES”).


Andrew Faust, J.D. (Pennsylvania)

Andrew Faust is a partner with the law firm of Sweet, Stevens, Katz & Williams, LLP. He has represented public school entities throughout Pennsylvania in special education and civil rights litigation since 1986, appearing at every level of the state and federal judiciary and in hundreds of administrative due process proceedings. He has spoken widely on special education, student services, and civil rights to audiences of educators, attorneys, college students, and parents and has appeared as an expert witness on special education.

Brian Jason Ford, J.D. (Pennsylvania)

Brian Jason Ford received a B.A. from Franklin & Marshall College and a J.D. with a certificate in advocacy and dispute resolution from Penn State Law (Dickinson). While at Penn State, working as a research assistant, Hearing Officer Ford studied ODR’s mediation system while completing a state-by-state analysis of special education dispute resolution systems. After law school, Hearing Officer Ford practiced special education law in Pennsylvania and New Jersey for six years, representing both families and educational agencies at various points in his career. He left the private practice of law in 2010 to become a Hearing Officer and has been certified by the National Association of Hearing Officials (NAHO) since 2014.

Craig Goodmark, J.D. (Georgia)

Mr. Goodmark is an education civil rights attorney in Atlanta, Georgia.   In his practice, Mr. Goodmark represents students, teachers and families whose civil rights have been violated in the education setting.  Mr. Goodmark was previously the director of the TeamChild Atlanta Project at the Atlanta Legal Aid Society.  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. Mr. Goodmark provides technical assistance, advocacy, and full legal representation to 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 Attorney on the Rise in 2013.  Mr. Goodmark currently sits on the Advisory Board of the Atlanta Legal Aid Society and the Board of the Council of Parent Attorneys & Advocates as well as a member of the State Bar of Georgia Children and the Courts Committee. 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.


Lisa Hardcastle, M.S. (Texas)

Lisa Hardcastle, Coordinator of Section 504 and Dyslexia, Clear Creek Independent School District in League City, TX has 19 years of experience in public education. She began her career as a pre-school teacher, then worked as a dyslexia specialist in elementary schools, as well as high school before assuming the role of coordinator in Clear Creek ISD, a large (41,000 students), suburban school district south of Houston. Ms. Hardcastle has an undergraduate degree from Texas A&M University, as well as a Master of Science in Reading from the University of Houston-Clear Lake. Ms. Hardcastle has presented on topics including ADHD, dyslexia, homebound services and Section 504 across Texas.

Rachel Hitch, J.D. (North Carolina)

Rachel B. Hitch received her B.A. from Bloomsburg University in 1997 and her J.D. from the Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law at Campbell University in 2002.  Ms. Hitch joined Schwartz & Shaw in 2002 and became a partner with the firm in 2011.  She is a member of the North Carolina Council of School Attorneys and the National Council of School Attorneys.  She is a past Chair of the Education Law Section of the North Carolina Bar Association.  Ms. Hitch practices exclusively education law, with an emphasis on issues in special education, and has represented school systems on numerous occasions defending against due process actions, state complaints, and OCR investigations.  She is a frequent speaker at the district, state, and national level on many different topics dealing with education law.

Isabel Machado, J.D. (New Jersey)

Isabel is the founding partner of the Machado Law Group and has devoted her distinguished legal career to the practice of education law. By listening and asking the right questions, Isabel has developed a unique ability to truly partner with clients on creative problem solving. Her collaborative approach fosters understanding and identification of goals and potential obstacles to achievement.

Isabel’s practice involves all aspects of education law, including litigation at all levels of state and federal courts and administrative agencies. She has an in-depth background in special education law, board policy, and administrative matters. Isabel focuses primarily on counseling and litigating on behalf of school districts with respect to employment and contract matters, labor negotiations, and special education.

Isabel is a dynamic and sought-after author and public speaker, who routinely conducts workshops and in-service programs for board of education members, school administrators and staff, and industry organizations, including the New Jersey Association of School Administrators (NJASA), New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA), Seton Hall University’s Superintendent Study Council and LRP Publications, Inc.

She is also a contributor and regular presenter for LEGAL ONE where she has written the special education training materials. LEGAL ONE is a program that meets the legal requirement for all NJ school leaders to complete 12 hours of training in school law, ethics, and governance. In addition, Isabel has published IDEA & Joint Custody, Your District’s Obligations to Each Parent.

In 2008, Isabel was recognized by the New Jersey Law Journal and NJBIZ as one of its “40 Under 40” and a Super Lawyers Rising Star. Isabel is admitted to practice law in New Jersey and New York. Isabel also holds a Certificate of Eligibility as a School Business Administrator.

Peter Maher, J.D. (Connecticut)

Peter Maher represents and counsels public school districts in all aspects of school law, including special education and Section 504, student discipline, bullying and discrimination/harassment, student records and the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act, student data privacy, Board governance and policy, school security and safety, and labor and employment issues, including collective bargaining.   Pete has been involved in the area of special education for over 14 years.  Before obtaining his law degree, Pete taught special education as a lead teacher at Centennial School of Lehigh University, a state-approved private special education day school in Pennsylvania nationally recognized for its use of positive behavioral interventions and supports with students with significant emotional and behavioral disorders and autism.  As a school law attorney, Pete regularly draws on his teaching experience in counseling clients, as he is able to provide not only legal advice, but also practical perspective.  Pete frequently presents workshops on various school law topics and provides professional development training for school personnel and professional groups.  Pete is a past president of the Connecticut School Attorneys Council and he serves as an adjunct professor at the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education, where he teaches Law and Public Education. Pete received an M.Ed. from Lehigh University and his J.D. from the University of Connecticut.

Thomas Mayes, J.D. (Iowa)

Thomas Mayes is the attorney for the Iowa Department of Education’s Division of Learning and Results, where he advises the department on special education law and policy and provides information on special education law to Iowa’s parents and educators. Before joining the department, he was staff attorney for the Iowa Court of Appeals, a staff attorney in Iowa Legal Aid’s Waterloo office, and law clerk to Justice James H. Carter of the Supreme Court of Iowa. Mr. Mayes is licensed to practice in Iowa courts, as well as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, and the U.S. Tax Court. He is a member and former president of the National Council of State Education Attorneys and was appointed by Chief Justice Marsha Ternus to the state’s Children’s Justice State Council.  He is a member of the National Association of Counsel for Children and is a certified Child Welfare Law Specialist. Mr. Mayes earned his bachelor’s degree from Baylor University, his law degree, with highest distinction, from The University of Iowa College of Law, and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Lehigh University.

Dennis McAndrews, J.D. (Pennsylvania)

Dennis C. McAndrews, Esquire, has worked for over forty (40) years in the public and private sectors in several roles in the fields of estate planning, complex litigation, and disability law. He is the Founder and Managing Partner of McAndrews, Mehalick, Connolly, Hulse, Ryan and Marone Law Offices, P.C., a nineteen-attorney law firm with offices in Berwyn, Scranton, Wyomissing, Wilmington Delaware, Pittsburgh and Metropolitan Washington D.C., which regularly represents individuals and their families in estate planning/administration, special education, general litigation, special needs trusts, elder law, abuse of vulnerable persons, guardianships, higher education discipline matters, sexual assaults and injury cases.  He frequently acts as a consultant to public and private attorneys in these areas of expertise.

Mr. McAndrews served as Executive Director and Staff Counsel to two select committees of the Pennsylvania State Senate which evaluated Pennsylvania’s system of care for the intellectually disabled and drafted proposed legislation designed to modernize Pennsylvania’s legal basis for the provision of their care.  He served for fifteen (15) years as a Special Education Hearing Officer for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, and was assigned to determine the appropriate educational classification, program, and placement of children with disabilities.  In 1990, Mr. McAndrews was selected to serve as one of the first appellate hearing officers in Pennsylvania under new Department of Education regulations.

During his seventeen (17) years as a prosecutor in the Philadelphia area, and thereafter in criminal defense matters, he handled many high profile cases.  He successfully secured a conviction against the wealthiest murderer in American history, John E. DuPont, for the killing of Olympic gold medal wrestler, David Schultz.  He is also a frequent contributor to national and local news media involving legal and political issues and has provided commentary for CBS, NBC, NPR, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, The Legal Intelligencer, and many other news outlets.

For over 30 years, Mr. McAndrews served as an instructor of Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Criminal Justice, Public Policy, and Business Law at Villanova University, Immaculata University and Drexel University.  He is a frequent lecturer to national conferences, Bar Association Committees and advocacy groups concerning estate planning/administration, special education, the rights of the elderly, Title IX and education law.  He has served as a member of the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Elder Law Council, and for a decade was the Chairman of The Disability Law Committee of the Delaware County Bar Association.  Mr. McAndrews has received multiple awards for his advocacy on behalf of vulnerable citizens, including from the ARC Alliance, the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, and the ARCs of Delaware County and Montgomery County. He received the highest attorney rating from Martindale Hubbell, and has been selected as a Super Lawyer on numerous occasions.

Mr. McAndrews obtained his law degree from the Villanova School of Law in 1978 and was awarded a Bachelor of Science Degree in Education together with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Political Science from Villanova University in 1975.

Mr. McAndrews is the playwright and actor of a one-man play “If JFK Survived Dallas” in which he acts as President Kennedy as an elder statesman. He has presented the play for several years at theaters including the Kennedy Summer School in Ireland, in Texas on the 50th anniversary of the death of President Kennedy, and in multiple venues across the East Coast, including Washington DC, New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.

In 2019, Dennis was awarded the Villanova University Law Alumni Award for Excellence, only the third time in the history of the University that this Award has been granted.

Anne M. McGinnis, Ph.D., J.D. (New York)

Dr. Anne M. McGinnis is an education attorney at Harris Beach PLLC in Rochester, New York. She represents public school districts at impartial hearings and appeals, appeals to the Commissioner of Education, student discipline hearings, and Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) and Section 504 meetings. She also counsels school districts on matters related to various student issues, including homelessness, residency, records and privacy, bullying, and student constitutional rights.  Prior to becoming an attorney, Dr. McGinnis was a school psychologist at a Long Island public school district for several years.

Dr. McGinnis combines her background in law and psychology by training school personnel on legally-compliant and student-centered best practices and presenting at local, regional, and national conferences.  In addition to being an attorney, Dr. McGinnis is a licensed psychologist in New York, a certified school psychologist in New York and Connecticut, and a certified music teacher in Connecticut. Dr. McGinnis received her J.D. from St. John’s University School of Law, her Ph.D. and M.Ed. from the Pennsylvania State University, and her B.A. and B.Mus. from the University of Hartford.

Catherine Michael, J.D. (Indiana)

Catherine Michael is a licensed attorney, the co-managing partner of CMK Law Firm, and practices throughout the states of Indiana, Texas, and Michigan. She represents students and their families in a variety of educational and personal injury matters, including Special Education Due Process, Section 504, expulsion, disciplinary issues and personal injury of children. These include physical injury, sexual abuse, molestation, and rape cases both in and out of school environments, private school issues and discipline as well as other civil rights and disability claims. She possesses extensive knowledge regarding special education due process under the IDEA, teacher and student discipline and dismissal matters, Section 504 and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) claims, personal injury of children in schools, and other civil rights matters.

Ms. Michael has been featured hundreds of times in both the national and local media. She is a frequent guest on syndicated radio and television shows for her education law expertise. Her nearly two-decade career in education has focused on ensuring that the needs of children in schools are met. She has represented school shooting victims, children abused in school, and hundreds of special needs children whose families needed a voice and advocate.

Michelle Moor, J.D. (Massachusetts)

Michelle Moor is a partner at Moor, Perlman & Gregg, LLC, a law firm devoted to advocating for families of children with special needs and protecting their civil rights. Ms. Moor’s practice focuses solely on special education law. She consults with families through all stages of the IEP development process, and represents clients at administrative due process hearings, disciplinary hearings, as well as in state and federal court. Ms. Moor frequently presents on topics related to special education law to a variety of audiences. Prior to founding her firm, Ms. Moor worked as a civil litigator for several years and represented clients in a range of corporate and employment matters. She is a graduate of Vassar College. Ms. Moor served as a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa before attending the Northeastern University School of Law.


James Newcomer, Ed.D. (Pennsylvania)

James Newcomer taught high school English, taught in a residential school for students with blindness in Pittsburgh, and served as an itinerant teacher of visually impaired students for the Bucks County Intermediate Unit. During this time, Dr. Newcomer was twice elected as the national chairperson of the country’s orientation and mobility specialists. He also provided staff training in community living arrangements for clients with multiple disabilities, including blindness, who were transitioning from institutions back into their communities. Dr. Newcomer later served for over 20 years as an administrator in the Quakertown Community School District in Bucks County as its Director of Special Education, Director of Pupil Personnel Services, and Assistant Superintendent. He is a magna cum laude graduate of Lebanon Valley College, received a master’s degree in special education from the University of Pittsburgh, and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from Lehigh University. His research dissertation and resultant journal articles dealt with special education litigation. During his nearly 40-year career in public education, Dr. Newcomer experienced the development and impact of special education law as a teacher, school administrator, and peer monitor for the PA Department of Education. He has served as Co-director of the Special Education Law Symposium with Dr. Zirkel for over 20 years.

Claire Raj, J.D. (South Carolina)

Claire Raj is an Assistant Professor of Law with a focus on special education law.  She directs the Education Rights Clinic where third year law students assist families of children with disabilities in accessing educational services. Professor Raj’s scholarship has addressed topics such as: inequalities in access to special education services among racial and ethnic subgroups, disparities in discipline of students with disabilities, and the impacts of state and federal voucher policies on students with disabilities.  Her scholarship has appeared in the Emory Law JournalUCLA Law ReviewArizona State Law Journal, and elsewhere.

Before joining the University of South Carolina School of Law, Professor Raj coordinated the Equal Justice Program at Howard University School of Law in Washington, DC.  In that role, she directed the Externship Program, taught seminars in Public Interest Lawyering, and coordinated pro bono opportunities, including Alternative Spring Break trips to assist in post-Katrina relief efforts in New Orleans.  She also coordinated the law school’s Marshall Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project, a clinical program where law students taught constitutional law and juvenile justice in local public high schools.  She was previously a staff attorney with the Children’s Law Center, a non-profit in Washington, DC, where she represented children in the foster care system. Professor Raj received a B.A.from the University of Rochester and her law degree from Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

Sharon Ramage, J.D. (Texas)

Sharon Ramage has devoted her entire professional career to helping families and children, as a social worker and as an attorney. As a former social worker, she saw first-hand the devastation that conflict causes for children and families. Since 1992, Sharon has devoted her law practice to helping families and children. Sharon primarily helps clients in family law and special education matters.

Sharon co-authored a book about children and the law, All About Texas Law and Kids, published by Texas Lawyer Press. She is frequently called upon to instruct other attorneys in the areas of her expertise. She has lectured other professionals on special education law topics by serving on the faculty of the National Academy for IDEA Administrative Law Judges & Hearing Officers as well as the National Administrative Law Judiciary Conferences. Sharon frequently lectures on special education and family law topics for local bar associations, parent groups and disability organizations. She graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington and received her law degree from Baylor University School of Law.

Brooke Say, J.D. (Pennsylvania)

Ms. Say is the Chair of the firm’s School Law Group and practices in the areas of education (school) and employment law. In her school practice, she has developed expertise in advising school districts in special education, gifted, discipline, labor and employment, and civil rights matters. She counsels her clients through internal compliance audits and defends them in administrative hearings and federal litigation. Ms. Say also provides legal support to private and public employers on a variety of personnel issues, particularly on compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Family Medical Leave Act, Fair Labor Standards Act, Wage and Hour laws, and Unemployment Compensation law.  She represents school districts and employers before various administrative bodies, including the Bureau of Special Education, Office for Dispute Resolution, Office of Civil Rights, Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, and in federal and state court.

In 2014, the Central Penn Business Journal named Brooke one of Central Pennsylvania’s Forty Under 40 business people and in 2015, The Legal Intelligencer named her one of Pennsylvania’s Lawyers on the Fast Track.

Ms. Say has been selected by her peers and Law and Politics magazine to the Pennsylvania Rising Star list for 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017. This honor is awarded to only 2.5% of all Pennsylvania attorneys considered in the selection process.

Michael Stafford, J.D. (Delaware)

Mike specializes in representing public and private schools in a variety of student and employment matters, including special education disputes, student rights and discipline, McKinney-Vento, school policies and procedures and staff termination issues. In particular, Mike has represented school districts in special education (IDEA) disputes in both administrative due process hearings and federal and state courts. His representation also includes civil rights allegations, including Section 504/ADA.

Similarly, Mike has handled numerous student rights issues, including complex disputes over students’ free speech rights as well as discipline-related issues, such as search and seizure and expulsion hearings and appeals. He also works with school administrators to develop or revise policies and procedures and provides school staff development and training on a wide variety of topics. Mike also has extensive experience representing police departments in trial board hearings under the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, as well as counseling departments on disciplinary policies and procedures.

Mike graduated magna cum laude from Washington College and received his J.D. from Duke University School of Law. He is a veteran presenter at Lehigh University’s Special Education Law Symposium, lecturing on topics as varied as Transition Planning and Implementation under the IDEA to Section 504.

Parris Taylor, J.D. (Louisiana)

Parris A. Taylor is an attorney working for the Executive Counsel of the Louisiana Department of Education and the coordinator for the Department’s dispute resolution program for students with exceptionalities. Mr. Taylor was a former IDEA administrative law judge and deputy general counsel with the State of Louisiana’s Division of Administrative Law before joining the Department. Attorney Taylor started as a general practitioner with the Tyson, Pitcher, Avery, & Cunningham Law Firm before taking a position as a child support attorney with the State of Louisiana’s Department of Children and Family Services. He later transferred within DCFS to join the Bureau of General Counsel’s legal staff where he also worked as a child protection attorney with the Office of Child Welfare. Attorney Taylor served as founding chair, co-chair, and is currently a member of the Louisiana State Bar Association’s Children’s Law Committee and is also a member of the LSBA’s Legal Services for Persons with Disabilities Committee. He was an invited speaker for special education workshops at the National IDEA Academy, continuing legal education seminars, and for community stakeholders and non-governmental organizations throughout Louisiana. He’s a past member of the Louisiana State Legislature’s Child In Need of Care Task Force, the Louisiana Child Support Guideline Committee, and was a past-president of the Louisiana Association of Administrative Law Judges. Mr. Taylor graduated from Morgan State University in Baltimore. Later he attended and graduated from the Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge, where he recently served as an adjunct professor teaching administrative law.

Laurie VanderPloeg, M.Ed. (District of Columbia)

Laurie VanderPloeg is the director of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), in the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), at the U.S. Department of Education. VanderPloeg ensures the effective implementation of OSEP’s legislative mission, advises the assistant secretary on federal education policy related to individuals with disabilities, and provides leadership in addressing issues of American education for infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities through OSEP activities and within the context of the policies of OSERS, the Department, and Congress.

Prior to joining the department, VanderPloeg served as director of special education at Kent Intermediate School District (Kent ISD) in Michigan. Also at Kent ISD, she served as assistant director for monitoring, compliance and parent support. Prior to Kent ISD, she served as a local supervisor of special education, and a special education teacher in the Grand Rapids Public Schools. VanderPloeg also served as an adjunct professor at Grand Valley State University in the special education administration program. She is a parent of an adult with disabilities.

VanderPloeg graduated from Grand Valley State University with a master’s in special education administration and a bachelor’s degree from Grand Valley State College. She holds administrative approvals as both supervisor and director of special education and certification in learning disabilities, cognitive impairment, emotional impairment, and K–8 regular education.

Julie Weatherly, J.D. (Alabama)

Julie J. Weatherly, Esq. is the owner of Resolutions in Special Education, Inc. with offices and attorneys in Alabama and Florida. Julie is a member of the State Bars of Alabama and Georgia, and for over 30 years, has provided legal representation and consultation to school agencies across the country in the area of educating students with disabilities under IDEA and Section 504/ADA. She has been a member of the faculty for many national and state legal institutes and is a frequent speaker at special education law conferences. Julie has developed a number of training programs that support special education legal compliance and has been published nationally as a part of her trainings, workshops and seminars. She is the author of the legal update article for the National CASE quarterly newsletter and is a member of LRP’s Special Education Attorneys Advisory Council. In June of 1996, Julie appeared with Leslie Stahl on CBS news program “60 Minutes” to discuss the cost of meeting the legal requirements of the IDEA. In 1998, she was honored by Georgia’s Council for Exceptional Children as the Individual who had Contributed Most to Students with Disabilities, and in April 2012, Julie received the Award for Outstanding Service from the National Council of Administrators of Special Education.

Liliana Yazno-Bartle, J.D. (Pennsylvania)

Ms. Yazno-Bartle is a senior associate attorney at The Law Offices of Caryl Andrea Oberman, LLC. She has been with Ms. Oberman’s firm since 1997, concentrating on legal issues of persons with disabilities and their families, education rights, estate planning, guardianship, and testing accommodations.  She is a member of the Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA), Montgomery County Bar Association and is an author and frequent lecturer to the Pennsylvania Bar Association and parent groups in Pennsylvania.  Ms. Yazno-Bartle is the President of Pennsylvania Education for All Coalition (PEAC), a non-profit organization designed to promote inclusion practices in Pennsylvania.  She is a board member of the Arc Alliance where she also serves on the Guardianship Services Board, the Chat-n-Chew Parent Training Committee and a member of the DELVAL Guardianship Association at the Arc Alliance.  In 2016, Ms. Yazno-Bartle was appointed to chair the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Legal Services for Exceptional Children Committee.  Ms. Yazno-Bartle also serves as a volunteer attorney of the Wills for Heroes Foundation, a program devoted to providing free wills and other estate planning documents for Pennsylvania’s emergency first responders.  In addition to her professional affiliations, Ms. Yazno-Bartle serves as a Kids Ministry volunteer for the First Baptist Church of Doylestown, PA.  Before joining Ms. Oberman’s firm, she was a staff attorney at Legal Aid of Chester County, Inc. in West Chester for over four years where the primary emphasis of her practice concentrated on Domestic Relations, Landlord-Tenant, Public Benefits and Bankruptcy. She received her B.S. with Honors in Economics from Rutgers University, Cook College in 1989 and her J.D. from Villanova University School of Law, where she was president and co-founder of the Latin American Law Students Association.  Ms. Yazno-Bartle was born in Colombia, South America and is fluent in Spanish.


Perry Zirkel, Ph.D., J.D., L.L.M. (Pennsylvania)

Perry A. Zirkel is university professor emeritus of education and law at Lehigh University, where he formerly was dean of the College of Education and more recently held the Iacocca Chair in Education for its five-year term. He has a Ph.D. in Educational Administration and a J.D. from the University of Connecticut, and a Master of Laws degree from Yale University. He has written more than 1,600 publications on various aspects of school law, with an emphasis on legal issues in special education. He writes regular columns for Principal magazine, Exceptionality, and NASP’s Communique, and did so previously for Phl Delta Kappan and Teaching Exceptional Children. Past president of the Education Law Association (ELA) and co-chair of the Pennsylvania special education appeals panel from 1990 to 2007, he is the author of the CEC monograph The Legal Meaning of Specific Learning Disability; the more recent books, A Digest of Supreme Court Decisions Affecting Education and Student Teaching and the Law; and the two-volume reference Section 504, the ADA and the Schools. In 2012, he received the Research and Practice Award from the American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the Excellence in Research Award from AERA’s Division A (Administration, Organization & Leadership). In 2013, he received the University Council for Educational Administration’s Edwin Bridges Award for significant contributions to the preparation and development of school leaders. In 2016, he received the ELA’s Steven S. Goldberg Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Education Law.