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California Special Education Law 2016

Speaker(s): Carly J. Munson, Christine Chuang, Deborah U. Ettinger, Dora J. Dome, Dr. Christopher Arrillaga, Laura Faer, Roberta S. Savage, Suge Lee
Recorded on: Oct. 6, 2016
PLI Program #: 150632

Dora J. Dome has practiced Education Law for over 20 years, primarily in the areas of student issues and special education.  In April 2016, she published her first book, Student Discipline, Special Education Discipline, Anti-Bullying and Other Relevant Student Issues: A Guide For Practitioners, which has been described as a “must-have” for anyone seeking to understand student discipline. She graduated from University of Hawaii, Richardson School of Law (J.D.) and from University of California, Los Angeles (B.A.).

She currently provides legal representation to school districts on student issues, and has renewed her emphasis on developing and conducting professional development trainings for district staff that focus on Bullying, Equity and Legal Compliance in a proactive effort to build staff capacity to address the changing needs of their students.

Carly J. Munson currently serves as a Deputy Attorney General with the Bureau of Children’s Justice in the Civil Rights Enforcement Section of the California Department of Justice.  In her role at the Department of Justice, Ms. Munson investigates and litigates a broad range of civil rights matters on behalf of the Attorney General. 

Prior to this position, Ms. Munson served first as Senior Staff Attorney and later Litigation Counsel for Disability Rights California, the state’s protection and advocacy organization for people with disabilities.  In these roles, Ms. Munson worked to bring mass impact cases such as T.G., et al. v. Kern County, et al., to address the county’s treatment and education of youth detained in its juvenile halls, and Black Parallel School Board, et al. v. Sacramento City Unified School District, regarding the district’s modern-day segregation and removal of its student with disabilities, particularly Black students with disabilities.

Prior to joining Disability Rights California, Ms. Munson was the Clinical Supervising Attorney for the Youth and Education Law Project and a Lecturer in Law at Stanford Law School.  The Youth and Education Law Project is a part of the Mills Legal Clinic at Stanford Law School, providing low-income and traditionally disadvantaged students and families with access to legal representation.  The Project engages in a combination of direct services, mass impact litigation, and policy advocacy work in an effort to ensure educational equity for all students in California.  During her nearly seven years working at Stanford Law School, Ms. Munson empowered law students to represent public school students in a range of matters, including Individualized Education Program meetings, discipline hearings, and due process proceedings.  She served as co-counsel in the long-standing class action Emma C., et al. v. Delaine Eastin, et al., and helped to bring the groundbreaking school finance case Robles-Wong, et al. v. California, et al., in an ultimately unsuccessful bid to ensure all school were adequately funded.

Prior to joining the Stanford Law School community, Ms. Munson worked at the Disability Rights Legal Center in Los Angeles helping students with disabilities and their families in a wide range of school-related matters.  Ms. Munson represented individual students in special education and school discipline matters and cases involving physical access or accommodations issues.  In addition, Ms. Munson was heavily involved in bringing several mass impact cases including the class action Garcia, et al. v. Los Angeles County Jails, et al., regarding the wholesale absence of legally mandated special education services for students between the ages of 18 and 22 detained in Los Angeles County Jails, and Casey A., et al. v. Gundry, et al., a class action alleging that youth detained at the largest complex of probation camps in the nation were denied constitutionally adequate education.  Ms. Munson is a graduate of Boston University School of Law. 

Christine Chuang is a Deputy Attorney General at the Bureau of Children’s Justice (Bureau), California Department of Justice, which was formed in early 2015 by Attorney General Kamala D. Harris to ensure that the laws and regulations enacted to protect children are consistently and effectively enforced.  Christine conducts affirmative investigations to enforce the legal rights of children, including enforcement of civil rights and child welfare laws.

Before joining the Bureau, Christine was a Senior Staff Attorney at Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), specializing in impact litigation on behalf of people with disabilities.  Christine handled numerous federal class action lawsuits challenging discriminatory policies, procedures, and practices in a wide variety of programs, services, and activities, such as voting, education, emergency preparedness programs, federal park systems, and transportation services. 

Before joining DRA, Christine was an associate at Latham & Watkins LLP, practicing general and complex civil litigation.  Christine is a graduate of the University of Michigan and received her law degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School.  Christine was named one of Daily Journal’s Top 100 Women Lawyers in 2015.

Deborah Ettinger represents California public school districts, county offices of education, and special education local plan areas. Ms. Ettinger specializes in education law, with a focus on special education and student issues. For over a decade, she has assisted clients in serving the needs of disabled students, including matters ranging from Section 504 disability discrimination complaints and student disciplinary matters to special education administrative proceedings. Ms. Ettinger has successfully litigated special education cases in state and federal trial and appellate courts and before administrative agencies. She also works with clients proactively to help avoid costly disputes through advice and counsel, reviewing policies and practices and training staff on legal compliance.

Events & Speaking Engagements

Ms. Ettinger frequently conducts trainings for school districts on a variety of topics, from the individualized education process to compliance with Section 504. She also regularly speaks at statewide education associations.


Ms. Ettinger is a contributor to the firm’s education publications and EdLaw Connect Blog.


J.D., Whittier Law School

B.A., University of California, Irvine


2000, California

U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

U.S. District Courts, Central, Eastern, Northern, and Southern Districts of California


ADA, IDEA & Section 504


Student Services and Disabilities

Laura Faer currently serves as a Deputy Attorney General with the California Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Enforcement Section and as an Adjunct Professor at U.C. Hastings College of Law.  In her role at the Department of Justice, Ms. Faer investigates and litigates a broad array of civil rights matters on behalf of the Attorney General.  Prior to this position, Ms. Faer served first as Chief Attorney and later as Director of the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in San Francisco.  In these roles, Ms. Faer directed and oversaw OCR’s civil rights compliance and enforcement program in California.

Ms. Faer has focused her practice on education, children’s rights, and civil rights law.  She has served as lead counsel on a number of education equity cases.  Among other cases, she successfully represented four foster siblings who were unlawfully segregated from the public school setting, helped defend against a constitutional challenge to Los Angeles Unified School District’s voluntary integration program and retain millions of dollars in funding for students with severe mental health disabilities, challenged solitary confinement and education deprivation conditions for juveniles in California, and worked extensively on the statewide education reform and equity case, Williams v. State of California.  In 2011, she was named a California Lawyer Attorney of the Year for the landmark settlement in Casey A. v. Gundry, a class action alleging that youth detained at the largest complex of probation camps in the nation were denied a constitutionally adequate education.

Prior to taking her current position, Ms. Faer served as the Directing Attorney of the Children’s Rights Project and then founded and directed the Statewide Education Rights Project for Public Counsel.  The Statewide Education Rights Project unites litigation, legislation, policy change, direct services, and community partnerships to create a model for education reform across California.  The Children’s Rights Project is Public Counsel’s largest program, which involves hundreds of pro bono lawyers who provide representation for more than twenty thousand children and youth annually.  The project facilitates adoptions of foster children and legal guardianships, provides Guardian ad Litems for children harmed while in foster care, and education and transition advocacy for low-income, foster, and delinquent youth, among other work.

Ms. Faer led Public Counsel’s sponsorship of a number of groundbreaking pieces of legislation, including AB 1933, ensuring education stability rights for foster youth, and AB 420, limiting suspensions and expulsions for the catch-all category of willful defiance.  In 2012, she successfully led an effort to pass seven bills aimed at improving outcomes for students of color, foster youth, and students with disabilities.  She also led the creation of and co-developed the Fix School Discipline Toolkits and website, one-stop resources for addressing the school-to-prison pipeline and stopping school pushout.

As a Skadden Law Fellow, Ms. Faer worked to improve education outcomes and educational quality for low-income children in some of South Los Angeles’ lowest performing schools.  She ran a community-based legal clinic and successfully advocated for legislative and regulatory changes to California’s implementing statutes for the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Improvement Act of 2004.  Ms. Faer clerked for Judge Stephen Reinhardt on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  She was named a Rising Star by California Lawyer magazine multiple times, and has received other awards and recognition for her championship of civil rights issues.

Suge Lee is the Managing Attorney of the Youth Practice Group at Disability Rights California.  Suge represents children and youth with disabilities in the areas of special education and civil rights.  Her work is focused on advocating for least restrictive environments and positive behavioral supports and services for students with disabilities, and for the elimination of restraint and seclusion in schools. Suge Lee completed her undergraduate degree from University of California, Berkeley in 2003.  She received an L.LM. in International Law from the University of London in 2008, and she graduated from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco in 2009.  She has worked at Disability Rights California since 2010.

Dr. Christopher Arrillaga is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Oakland and Lafayette, California. Dr. Arrillaga specializes in conducting comprehensive Independent Educational Evaluations (IEE) of children from numerous Bay Area school districts and also provides psychotherapy to both teenage boys and men. Dr. Arrillaga specializes in conducting bilingual psychological assessments (Spanish/English) with children that frequently present with unique needs within the school setting. He has a wealth of experience in identifying complex and unique learning, mood, and neurodevelopmental disorders.

Dr. Arrillaga served as an assessment supervisor at WestCoast Children's Clinic in Oakland, for the past 6 years where he trained and supervised staff psychologists and postdoctoral residents in conducting pediatric psychological testing from largely urban communities of the San Francisco Bay Area. Training focuses on teaching the Therapeutic Assessment model of assessment created by Dr. Steven Finn from the University of Texas at Austin, which strives to make the testing process empowering and therapeutic for the child and their family. In 2015, Dr. Arrillaga published a chapter in the book “Assessing Children in the Urban Community” by Rutledge Press titled “The Case of the Bullet-Proof Vest: Complex PTSD, Racial Wounds, and Taking Matters into Your Own Hands.”

He is especially excited by opportunities to collaborate with educational advocates and attorneys in order to leverage the findings and recommendations from psychological evaluations to advocate for children’s special education needs from underserved and under-resourced communities. Dr. Arrillaga has served as an expert witness in Bay Area school district due process hearings with favorable outcomes for his clients. He previously trained at UCSF Benioff and Children’s Hospital Oakland as a predoctoral intern and later at WestCoast Children's Clinic.

While working as a behavior analyst, Ms. Savage frequently witnessed parents having difficulties obtaining appropriate special education services for their child with a disability.  There were severe inconsistencies in the information provided to parents concerning their rights, the rights of their child, and service options available to meet the educational needs of their child.  This injustice is what drove her to law school and continues to be a motivating factor for her every day.

Ms. Savage has dedicated her career to representing children with disabilities against school districts in program disputes.  This is often a stressful and exhausting process for families.  The goal of her work is to help parents and students navigate through the process of obtaining a free appropriate public education as smoothly as possible.

  • California Association for Parent-Child Advocacy (CAPCA), Chair, Northern California
  • Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), Member
  • Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) Advisory Committee Member 2008-2010
  • Admitted to 9th Circuit Court, Northern District California, Southern District California, Eastern District California
  • Member of the California State Bar, 1999
  • Juris Doctorate, UC Davis School of Law (King Hall), 1999
  • Master of Arts - Educational Psychology, UC Santa Barbara, 1995
  • Bachelor of Arts – Psychology, UC Santa Barbara, 1992
  • Law Office of Roberta S. Savage, 2004
  • Varma and Clancy – Attorney, 1999-2004
  • Ruderman, Varma, and Clancy - Law Clerk, 1998-1999
  • Protection and Advocacy, Inc. – Law Clerk, 1997
  • Legal Services of Northern California – Law Clerk, 1997
  • Holdsambeck and Associates – Behavior Analyst, 1992-1996
  • UCSB Autism Research and Training Center – Staff Member, 1991-1995