Symposium Faculty 2022

Steven Aleman, J.D. (Texas)

Steven Aleman is Senior Policy Specialist for Disability Rights Texas. In this role, he currently serves as the in-house expert at Disability Rights Texas on public school issues affecting children and youth with disabilities in Texas. He guides advocacy efforts aimed at improving the state’s laws and policies for special education. Prior to joining Disability Rights Texas, Steven had many years of experience in policy analysis, law, mediation, and teaching. He has worked both in Washington, DC at the federal level and in Austin, TX at the state level. Among his experience is time with the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education as a staff attorney. Steven has a Master of Public Affairs degree from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, and a J.D. degree from the Law School at George Washington University in Washington, DC.

Laura Anthony, J.D. (Ohio)

Laura Anthony chairs the Education Law practice group. Her practice focuses on issues involving special education, student discipline, civil rights claims and employment law. She advises boards of education, higher education clients, county boards of developmental disabilities and other entities on issues arising under various state and federal laws and regulations, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, and the Family and Medical Leave Act. She defends school districts and other public entities against employment discrimination claims and other administrative and judicial actions, and serves as a mediator for disputes involving K-12 schools, colleges and universities and other public entities.

Laura’s special education practice includes counseling school personnel on compliance standards, training staff, attending IEP meetings and mediation sessions, representing school districts in due process hearings and related litigation, and responding to special education and other disability related complaints. She advises school districts on student issues regarding custody, residency, discipline, tuition, transportation, athletic participation and constitutional rights. Laura has conducted numerous workshops on a wide variety of legal topics for regional, state and national education organizations as well as individual school districts. She currently serves as a board designated hearing officer for student disciplinary appeals and has served as a Judicial Law Clerk to Judge Thomas F. Bryant of the Third District Court of Appeals.

Laura is a graduate of The Ohio State University, receiving a B.A. summa cum laude and a J.D.

Jason Ballum, J.D. (Virginia)

Jason H. Ballum is an attorney in the law firm of Sands Anderson PC.  Jason’s practice focuses on the representation of public school boards, and he has particular expertise in representing school boards in disputes regarding special education.  Jason also represents school boards in the areas of: student discipline, student privacy and records, policy development, employment, and constitutional law issues.  Jason has experience in state and federal court litigation, due process hearings, all manner of school-related administrative hearings, and he represents school boards during state and federal government investigations and enforcement proceedings.  Jason is a regular presenter at state-wide and national conferences on legal issues that impact public school boards.  Jason received his undergraduate education at Colgate University and was a double major in education and psychology.  He earned his law degree from the University of Virginia.

Maria Blaeuer, J.D. (Maryland)

Maria Blaeuer is the Director of Programs and Outreach at Advocates for Justice and Education (AJE), the District of Columbia’s federally designated Parent Training and Information Center, and she has been with AJE since 2015.

Prior to joining AJE, Maria 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.  She has provided professional development and continuing education about special education to attorneys, parents, teachers and other service providers in the District of Columbia, Maryland, New York, Virginia, Massachusetts, Illinois, Oregon and Pennsylvania.  In her current role, Maria works with schools and families to ensure that students receive and education that allows them to live fulling and self-directed lives.  She directs AJE’s parent and professional training work,  and supports AJE’s individual and systemic advocacy work.  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.

Maria is a native of the Washington D.C. region, and has served 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.  She obtained her Bachelor’s degree with honors from Virginia Commonwealth University, earned her law degree from Howard University School of Law.

Maria lives near Montgomery County, MD’s agricultural reserve with her husband, three children, and the family’s three cats, a very old dog, and numerous chickens.

Amy Brooks, J.D. (Pennsylvania)

Amy Brooks is a member of the Wisler Pearlstine Education Law practice group, where she focuses on advising school administrators regarding a wide range of legal issues in student services and special education.  Her practice ranges from supporting school teams at IEP meetings to providing legal counsel to school boards and representation in administrative due process and other hearings.  She handles judicial appeals at all levels. Ms. Brooks has developed expertise at settlement negotiations, her topic in this current symposium.

In the courtroom, Ms. Brooks routinely litigates for public schools, including public charter schools, against legal claims brought under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as leading school teams in investigations by the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the US Office for Civil Rights (OCR). She advises schools regarding student records and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), issues of risk management, matters of child abuse and reporting under the Child Protective Services Act, homelessness under the McKinney Vento Act, and sexual harassment and gender equity involving Title IX. She has served as a contributing editor to the Pennsylvania School Laws Handbook.

Ms. Brooks received a B.A. in Political Science from Haverford College and her J.D. from Temple University’s James E. Beasley School of Law.


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.

Mandy Favaloro, J.D. (California)

Mandy Favaloro is an attorney whose practice is devoted to representing students with disabilities.  Ms. Favaloro 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. Ms. Favaloro 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.  Ms. Favaloro is an active member of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA).   She currently serves as the Chair of the Board of Directors and as the Co-Chair of the Conference Committee.  Ms. Favaloro served as a primary instructor for COPAA’s SEAT program for five cohorts, has presented at COPAA’s Annual Conference since 2007, and has presented webinars for organizations on a variety of special education topics.  Ms. Favaloro has worked at A2Z Educational Advocates in Los Angeles, California for over 15 years after completing her B.A. at the University of Redlands and her J.D. at Pepperdine University.

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.

Elena Gallegos, J.D. (New Mexico)

Elena M. Gallegos has practiced law with Walsh Gallegos for more than 25 years. Ms. Gallegos’ practice emphasizes Board Governance, Disability Law, Employment Law, Student Issues and Special Education.

Ms. Gallegos assists districts with a variety of issues relevant to the school district’s leadership team and has worked with clients to develop better lines of communications between and among the leadership team.

In addition to practicing law, Elena served as a Program Specialist with the Mountain Plains Regional Resource Center (MPRRC) from 2000 to 2005. This resource was funded by the United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) to provide technical assistance to state departments of education in ten states including New Mexico and the Bureau of Indian Education.

Elena returned to her New Mexico roots to open the firm’s New Mexico office. She has served on the Board of Directors of the Education Law Association (formerly the National Organization on Legal Problems of Education), and is a nationally-known speaker on issues of school law.

Elena received her law degree from the University of Texas School of Law.

Justin Gilbert, J.D. (Tennessee)

Justin Gilbert practices special education law on the family side at Gilbert Law, PLC in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  His current projects involve least restrictive environment cases, where he was lead counsel in L.H. v. Hamilton Cty. Dep’t of Educ., 900 F.3d 779, 794 (6th Cir. 2018); reduction of restraints and isolations on students with disabilities; and state responsibility for delivering special education.  Mr. Gilbert obtained his law degrees from Southern Methodist University in 1993 and his LL.M from Edinburgh University (Scotland) in 1994. He can be reached at

Heidi Goldsmith, J.D. (Pennsylvania)

Heidi Goldsmith has been serving the needs of children and families in the area of special education for 20 years and is a founding partner of Bradley Goldsmith Law, which specializes in providing legal assistance to families throughout the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Prior to founding her own firm, she was a Shareholder at McAndrews Law for 19 years and Supervising Shareholder of the firm’s Special Education Department. Her representation of families with children with disabilities includes all aspects of IDEA and Section 504 matters. She attends IEP meetings to obtain appropriate supports and services, seeks comprehensive evaluations and/or Independent Educational Evaluations, seeks tuition support for private school placements when the school district has not provided FAPE, and represents parents at due process hearings and in judicial proceedings.

Ms. Goldsmith is the Parent Attorney Representative to the Shareholder’s Council of Pennsylvania’s Office for Dispute Resolution (ODR) and has recently been appointed to the Professional Advisory Board of the Learning Disabilities of America. She has frequently spoken at national and state-wide special education conferences, including the LDA, Arthritis Foundation, COPPA and PBI. Ms. Goldsmith is a past member of this symposium’s faculty.

She received a B.A. (Political Science) from the University of Minnesota and her J.D. from the Villanova University School of Law. She has recently been elected to the School Board in the Spring-Ford School District in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

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 education civil rights have been violated. Previously, Mr. Goodmark worked in legal services as the director of the TeamChild Atlanta Project at the Atlanta Legal Aid Society. Mr. Goodmark represented low income students and families in the metropolitan Atlanta area for the past twenty years. In his current practice, 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. In addition, Mr. Goodmark has been part of several impact litigation teams working to improve public education in Georgia.

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 Board of the Atlanta Legal Aid Society and the Council of Parent Attorneys & Advocates. He is also 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.

Eileen Hagerty, J.D. (Massachusetts)

Eileen Hagerty represents students with disabilities and their parents in disputes with their school districts.  She represents and advises parents regarding all aspects of special education disputes, including the TEAM meeting process (evaluations, eligibility determinations, IEP development, program and placement disputes); suspension and expulsion hearings; proceedings before the Bureau of Special Education Appeals (BSEA), including discovery, negotiation, pre-hearing conferences, and administrative hearings; federal district court and appellate court litigation; and attorneys’ fee litigation.  She represents students with all types of disabilities, including autism spectrum disorders; dyslexia and other learning disabilities; attention deficit disorders; and mental health issues.  Ms. Hagerty has been named as a Massachusetts Super Lawyer in the field of education law each year from 2004 to the present.  She was chosen as one of Boston’s Top Rated Lawyers in education law (Boston Globe2012) and has been selected as one of the Top Women Attorneys in Massachusetts (Boston MagazineApril 2013 and April, 2014). She was recently named by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly as a Top Woman of Law for 2014.

Prior to joining KCS, Ms. Hagerty was co-founder and partner at a small civil litigation firm.  Before that, she served as an Assistant United States Attorney and a Special Assistant District Attorney, and litigated at a large Boston law firm.  She served as law clerk to Judge Frederick B. Lacey of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.  Ms. Hagerty lectures and writes frequently on topics in special education law for both legal and lay audiences. She participates in various public service activities, including serving as a member of the board of directors of a non-profit advocacy organization, Massachusetts Advocates for Children (MAC), and is currently serving as MAC’s board chair, (as she also did from 2006 to 2012).  She also serves as a member of MAC’s autism advisory committee.  She is herself a parent of children with disabilities.

She received an A.B. in English summa cum laude from the University Of Detroit, a master’s degree from Harvard University, and her J.D. from Harvard Law School.

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.

Jennifer Laviano, J.D. (Connecticut)

Jennifer Laviano has dedicated her law practice entirely to the representation of Connecticut children and adolescents with disabilities whose families are in disagreement with their public school districts. Her representation of students with special needs encompasses the full spectrum of Civil Rights advocacy under both the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504. From attendance at IEP Team meetings and mediation, through due process Hearings and federal court, Ms. Laviano provides zealous and experienced advocacy.

Ms. Laviano is a regular presenter, both locally and nationally, on the legal rights of students with disabilities and their entitlement to receive a free appropriate public education. She serves on the Board of COPAA, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates. She earned an undergraduate degree in English Literature from Skidmore College in Saratoga, New York, and a J.D. from Quinnipiac University School of Law in Hamden, Connecticut.

Jose Martín, J.D. (Texas)

Jose Martín is a partner with the school law firm of Richards Lindsay & Martín, L.L.P. in Austin, Texas. For nearly thirty years, his practice has focused on consultation, dispute resolution, and litigation involving the education of disabled students under the IDEA and Section 504, as well as Title IX. He is a graduate of the University of Texas and the University of Texas School of Law. A background in journalism has led him to frequent publication in the area of disabilities laws, anti-discrimination laws, and their impact on public schools. He currently serves as Contributing Editor to LRP Publication’s national online-based Special Education Connection. As a speaker, Jose presents numerous topics on disabilities laws to audiences at national, regional, and state conferences, as well as local education agency staff development programs.

Thomas Mayes, J.D. (Iowa)

Thomas A. Mayes is the general counsel for the Iowa Department of Education’s Division of Learning and Results. 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. He is a member and former president of the National Council of State Education Attorneys. He is a member of the National Association of Counsel for Children, was appointed by Chief Justice Marsha Ternus to the state’s Children’s Justice State Council, and is a certified Child Welfare Law Specialist. He is a member of the Iowa Board of Law Examiners. 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. He is admitted to practice law in Iowa and New York.

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.

Judith Nedell, MS/CAS (Connecticut)

Ms. Nedell has 37 years of professional experience as an educator.  She has been the Section 504 Coordinator for the Greenwich Public Schools since 2012.   Her primary role is as the Program Coordinator for the School Counseling Program for secondary students in the district.

Prior to this, Ms. Nedell served as an Assistant Principal at Eastern Middle School in Greenwich, and a School Counselor at Greenwich High School, as well as two parochial high schools.   She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, a Sixth-Year degree in Counseling & Personnel, and a certificate in School Administration.

Ms. Nedell’s understanding of the diversity in neurodevelopmental profiles and foundation in helping students “learn how to learn” blends well with the practical organizational and leadership skills needed to advise staff members in the implementation of consistent Section 504 procedures.


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.

David Rubin, J.D. (New Jersey)

David B. Rubin is a sole practitioner in Metuchen, New Jersey, and of counsel to The Busch Law Group LLC. A graduate of Duke University and Rutgers Law School, David represents public school districts and private schools throughout New Jersey, advises lawyers and law firms on professional ethics matters, and has handled numerous precedent-setting cases at all levels of the state and federal court system. He has served as chair of the National School Boards Association’s Council of School Attorneys, president of the New Jersey Association of School Attorneys and chair of the New Jersey State Bar Association’s School Law and Professional Responsibility and Unlawful Practice Committees. He has attained an AV rating from the Martindale Hubbell Legal Directory, the highest rating for competence and character, is listed in Super Lawyers Magazine and Best Lawyers in America, and is a frequent author and lecturer in the fields of education law and legal ethics.

Brooke Say, J.D. (Pennsylvania)

Ms. Say is the Chair of her firm’s School Law Group and practices in the areas of education (school) for public school districts throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In her school practice, she has developed expertise in advising school districts in special education, gifted, discipline, and civil rights matters. She counsels her clients through internal compliance audits and defends them in administrative hearings and federal litigation. She represents school districts 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, and in federal and state court.  In more recent years, she has served as an expert witness in various special education matters. Ms. Say is privileged to hold a position on several insurance panels as counsel for school districts who are subject to claims under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

In her local practice, Brooke E. D. Say pioneered the Stock and Leader Special Education Series, which includes a compilation of seminars addressing the latest topics in Special Education presented to Special Education Directors, Supervisors, Pupil Personnel Administrators, head teachers and School Psychologists.  During the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, she hosted weekly conference calls with her clients, guiding them in their navigation of the legal pitfalls of educating disabled students in their virtual and hybrid educational settings.

Brooke regularly presents for the PA Exceptional Children’s Conference (ECC), Lehigh University’s various Special Education Conferences hosted by Dr. Perry Zirkel, Pennsylvania School Board Association, and Pennsylvania Bar Institute workshops.  In 2021, she was selected to give the revered “Year in Review” for the ECC, alongside a parent attorney/colleague.  More recently, she has enjoyed speaking across the United States, at the Tri-State Law Conference for Nebraska, Kansas, and Iowa, and at the upcoming Northern Plains Law Conference for North and South Dakota and Montana.

In 2012 and for eight consecutive years, Attorney Say was named to the Pennsylvania Rising Stars list as one of the top up-and-coming attorneys. The list, published nationwide in Super Lawyers® magazines, highlights individuals under the age of 40 who have significantly impacted their professional careers. Additionally, Brooke was the recipient of the Legal Intelligencer, Lawyers on the Fast Track in 2015. In 2020, she was awarded the Central Pennsylvania Business Journal’s Women of Influence award.

Ian Spechler, J.D. (Texas)

Ian Spechler is an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) with the Texas State Office of Administrative Hearings in Austin. He has served in that role since 2017 after spending ten years as an attorney at Disability Rights Texas.

Ian graduated from the University of Texas in 2004 and the University of Texas School of Law in 2007. Following graduation, Ian received a Skadden Fellowship to work at Disability Rights Texas. His primary role as a Skadden Fellow involved representing children with disabilities in IDEA discipline cases. Following the two-year Skadden Fellowship, Ian served as manager of the Disability Rights Texas foster care team. He represented foster children with disabilities as a court-appointed attorney ad litem in more than 70 counties across Texas before becoming an ALJ. He represented children in IEP meetings in more than 100 Texas school districts, several adult correctional facilities, and in every juvenile prison in the state.

As an ALJ, Ian presides primarily over special education lawsuits. He also presides over several other types of administrative proceedings and serves as a mediator of disputes involving Texas state agencies. Because of his extensive Texas travels as an attorney ad litem, an ALJ, and an avid trail runner, Ian can provide directions to the best places to stop in any small Texas town if you catch him during a break in the conference and have a need for that information.

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.

Gail Stewart, J.D. (New Mexico)

Gail Stewart has been a practicing lawyer in Albuquerque, New Mexico since 1983. Her work has focused on the rights of students with disabilities and their parents since 2000.   She has represented parents and students with disabilities in IDEA due process hearings in more than half of the 89 school districts in New Mexico and pursued IDEA, Section 504 and ADA claims in state and federal courts to enforce the rights of students with disabilities and parents and staff who advocate for them.

Kathleen Sullivan, J.D. (Colorado)

Kathleen Sullivan is Legal Counsel for the Boulder Valley School District. Over a 24 year career representing and advising public schools, she has had a particular interest in special education and anti-discrimination matters. She was admitted and practiced law in Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Florida before being lucky enough to head west to Colorado. Before practicing law, Ms. Sullivan served as a teacher in the Chicago Public Schools, an administrative law judge in Pennsylvania, and an interim charter school principal in Philadelphia.  She received her B.S in Elementary Education from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her J.D. with honors from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. She is currently an EdD student at the University of Colorado-Denver.

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 (Virginia)

Laurie VanderPloeg is the Associate Executive Director for Professional Affairs, Council for Exceptional Children (CEC).  Prior to joining CEC, she was 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. Laurie also 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. She also served as a local supervisor of special education, a special education teacher, and an adjunct professor at Grand Valley State University in the special education administration program. Laurie is a graduate of Grand Valley State University.  She is a parent of an adult son with disabilities.

Kendra Yoch, J.D. (Illinois)

Kendra represents educational institutions, including public school districts, charter schools, private schools, and higher education institutions, in a variety of education law matters. Kendra counsels and provides trainings to clients related to student issues, including special education, discipline, residency, bullying, records, and free expression. She also counsels clients related to harassment investigations, intergovernmental agreements, and threat assessments.

Kendra is a frequent presenter at education conferences, contributor to the Franczek Special Education Law Insights blog, and the host of the firm’s Education Law insights podcast. She is also the pro bono coordinator for the firm and volunteers at the Expungement Help Desk through Cabrini Legal Aid.

Kendra graduated cum laude from Davidson College with a degree in economics and received her J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center magna cum laude. While in law school, Kendra served as an executive editor for the Annual Review of Criminal Procedure, published by the Georgetown Law Journal. Prior to attending law school, she taught seventh and eighth grade special education reading and language arts in Houston as a Teach for America corps member. Kendra was a Division I swimmer and silver medalist at the 2000 Sydney Paralympics.


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.