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19th Annual School Law Institute

Speaker(s): Abbie Smith, Deusdedi Merced, Donna E. Lieberman, Jennifer Liu, MD, Jesse Cole Cutler, Michera Brooks, Nelson Mar, Rebecca Shore, Richard D. Marsico, Stefanie D. Coyle, Susan J. Horwitz
Recorded on: May. 1, 2019
PLI Program #: 251697

Abbie Smith is a senior attorney and litigator at the Law Offices of Regina Skyer & Associates, L.L.P.. Prior to joining the firm in 2010, Abbie was an associate in the real estate department of a major corporate law firm. While there, Abbie handled several pro bono special education matters referred by Advocates for Children.

Abbie graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in Civil Engineering. After working as an engineer, she went back to school to get her JD at Brooklyn Law School. Abbie interned with Skyer Law during law school, and also served on the editorial board of the Journal of Law and Policy. She graduated from Brooklyn Law in 2008.

Abbie lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children.

Deusdedi Merced is the Managing Member of Special Education Solutions, LLC (SES). Since 1997, Deusdedi’s legal career has been dedicated to special education. After a period as an attorney with the Office of Legal Services with the New York Board of Education, he spent several years representing parents of children with disabilities and their children before serving as an IDEA hearing officer, mediator, and facilitator in hundreds of matters. He was appointed to serve as Chief Hearing Officer for the District of Columbia for approximately three years and played a key role in assisting the District in being released from court supervision.

Deusdedi has presented training programs for hearing officers/Administrative Law Judges at LRP’s National Institute on Legal Issues of Educating Individuals with Disabilities, LRP’s School Attorneys Conference, the Academy for IDEA Administrative Law Judges and Hearing Officers, as well as the Lehigh Special Education Law Symposium: ALJ/IHO Institute. He has also presented numerous individualized training programs for various state educational agencies and is currently under contract on a long-term basis with the states of New York, Illinois, and Hawaii.

As a result of his broad experience in special education litigation, training, and oversight, Mr. Merced has a deep appreciation for the unique perspectives of school districts, parents, and hearing officers. Mr. Merced has first-hand knowledge of the challenges hearing officers face in presiding over due process hearings. His extensive knowledge and experience have made Mr. Merced a sought-after speaker at nationally recognized conferences on special education. He has been a featured speaker at LRP’s National Institute on Legal Issues of Educating Individuals with Disabilities, LRP’s School Attorneys Conference, as well the Academy for IDEA Administrative Law Judges and Hearing Officers at Duke Law School and Seattle University School of Law.

Donna Lieberman has been the executive director of the NYCLU since December 2001. She also founded the NYCLU’s Reproductive Rights Project. During her tenure, the NYCLU has grown to over 185,000 members, with 8 offices around the state, and become the state's leading voice for freedom, justice and equality, especially for those whose rights are most at risk: people of color, youth, and low-income New Yorkers.

Among the NYCLU’s accomplishments during her tenure are:

  • Reforming stop and frisk and broken windows policing
  • Reforming police and education practicesthat fuel the school to prison pipeline
  • Securing passage of the New York City Student Safety Act, Community Safety Act and Right to Know Act
  • Reforming solitary confinement in state prisons and local jails
  • Ensuring the right to counsel statewide
  • Protecting protest at the 2004 Republican National Convention
  • Serving as co-counsel to Edie Windsor in the lawsuit that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in the Edie Windsor case
  • Securing passage of the Women’s Equality Act and Paid Family Leave
  • Defending farmworkers’ right to organize;
  • Resisting the Trump regime’s attack on immigrant children and refugees
  • Reaching a landmark settlement in Broadway Triangle to promote racial fairness in creation of affordable housing in New York City; and
  • Founding NYCLU’s annual concert, Broadway Stands Up for Freedom
  • Establishing NYCLU’s youth organizing and leadership development program

Publications include “Class to Cuffs: Reforming New York City’s Harsh School Disciplinary Practices” (Impact, 2017), “The Degradation of Civil Society and Hyper-Aggressive Policing in Communities of Color in New York City” (Cardozo Law Review, 2016), “Teenagers, Healthcare & the Law” (NYCLU, 2002, 2018), and “Physician-Only and Physician Assistant Statutes: A Case of Perceived but Unfounded Conflict” (Journal of the American Medical Women’s Association, 1994).

Honors and awards include: New York Women’s Foundation (2017), The Fannie Bear Besser Award for Public Service (Rutgers Law School of Newark Alumni Association, 2015), Haywood Burns Memorial Award (New York State Bar Association, 2008), the Margaret Sanger Award (Planned Parenthood of New York City, 2005), and the Edith Spivack Award (New York County Lawyers’ Association, 2012). 

Dr. Jennifer Liu is the Deputy Director of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry for the Mount Sinai Health System.  She completed her training in Pediatrics/Psychiatry/Child & Adolescent (Triple Board) Psychiatry at Mount Sinai Hospital.  In 2007, she joined the faculty in role of Medical Director of the Child, Adolescent and Family services clinic at Mount Sinai Hospital.  For more than a decade, she has been involved in developing clinical programming for children, adolescents and their families in New York City, with a focus in dialectical behavioral therapy with adolescents.  She has also been dedicated to the training of future Child & Adolescent Psychiatrists as the Associate Director of Training for the Triple Board Program and the Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship Program until 2016 when she began her current role.

Jesse Cole Cutler’s practice focuses on advocating, mediating and litigating on behalf of children with special education needs. He has significant experience litigating every aspect of administrative hearings under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Jesse also has extensive appellate experience in federal appellate courts. He currently supervises and manages the litigation and resolution of tuition reimbursement claims and heads his firm’s appellate division.

Jesse is a member of the American Bar Association; the New York State Bar Association; the Association of The Bar Of The City Of New York; the American Trial Lawyers Association; the Education Law Association; the Council of Parents Attorneys and Advocates, and the Federal Bar Council.

Jesse received his JD from Brooklyn Law School and graduated cum laude from the University of Albany, SUNY. 

Jesse regularly lectures on special education policies, procedures and litigation strategies to parent and attorney groups.  He has published decisions on the federal and state level.

Jesse lives in Brooklyn Heights with his wife, an editor and author of children’s books, and his two sons.

Michera Brooks is Counsel and Senior Policy Director for Achievement First, a charter school network with schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island.  In her role, Michera provides advice, training, and policy guidance pertaining to special education and discipline to school and network level leaders, impacting over 13,000 students across 36 schools.  She also manages external litigation related to special education and/or discipline, including the class-action lawsuit, M.W. v. Achievement First, filed in November 2015.

Prior to joining Achievement First, Michera was a staff attorney at Advocates for Children of New York, where she worked on impact litigation and provided direct representation to low-income students and families seeking special education and disciplinary supports and services.  Prior to her work at Advocates for Children, Michera was a litigation associate at Simpson Thacher and Bartlett, and completed a fellowship in charter school leadership and administration.

Michera graduated from Duke University with a B.A. in Public Policy.  She taught high school ESL as a Teach for America corps member in Houston before attending New York University School of Law. 

Nelson Mar is a senior staff attorney at Bronx Legal Services. His practice includes both Education Law and Social Security Disability Law with prior experience in labor/employment and community economic development. Nelson is also the coordinator for the Legal Services NYC’s citywide Education Law Task Force and previously chair of the Education Law Committee with the New York County Lawyer’s Association (NYCLA). Nelson was selected as a subcommittee member of Mayor de Blasio’s School Climate Leadership Team in 2015 which produced significant recommendations on improving school climate in New York City’s public schools.

Over the last 20 years Nelson has litigated hundreds of special education impartial hearings and student disciplinary hearings. He has represented hundreds of families in a wide range of education law issues with a particular focus on the intersection of students with disabilities and student discipline. With this focus, Nelson was the lead attorney in the filing of TH et. al. v. Farina et. al., 13cv8777 (SDNY), a groundbreaking federal lawsuit brought on behalf of 11 plaintiffs challenging the practice by NYC public schools of sending students to hospital emergency rooms for disruptive behaviors. In addition, Nelson has worked with numerous parent groups, community organizations and social service providers to improve educational outcomes of at risk students in the Bronx and throughout New York City. Nelson’s current policy focus is on creating safe and supportive schools through trauma informed practices and improved access to mental health services.

Nelson received a dual degree JD & MSW from the University at Buffalo and his BA from Binghamton University. He is also a proud product of the NYC public school system graduating from the Bronx High School of Science. Outside of work, Nelson is the president of the 318 Restaurant Workers Union, co-founder and board member of the Peter Kwong Immigrant Workers Learning Center, co-founder of the National Mobilization Against Sweatshops (NMASS) and the founder and director of the Virginia Yu Fund for Social and Economic Justice. Recently Nelson joined the board of directors of Boldly Crowned, Inc., a not for profit dedicated to offering a safe, respectful, judgment-free environment for young women who have experienced, or at risk of experiencing a trauma.

Richard Marsico is Professor of Law and Director of the Impact Center for Public Interest Law at New York Law School.  He teaches Torts, Professional Responsibility, Special Education Law and Practice, the Impact Center Colloquium:  Legal Practice for Social Change,  the Regulatory Advocacy Clinic, and Race, Bias, and Advocacy. 

Marsico served as president of the Mamaroneck Union Free District School Board and is the founder and board chair of The Charter High School for Law and Social Justice in the Bronx, New York.  He also serves as a New York State impartial hearing officer.

He is the author of law review articles about community reinvestment and home mortgage lending, clinical teaching, and special education,  as well as two books, Special Education Law and  Practice:  Cases and Materials (Carolina Academic Press 2017), and Democratizing Capital:  The History, Law, and Reform of the Community Reinvestment Act (Carolina Academic Press 2005).   

Marsico graduated from Fordham  University, summa cum laude, in 1982, with majors in philosophy and history.  He was the editor-in-chief of The Ram, Fordham’s student newspaper.  He graduated from Harvard Law School, magna cum laude, in 1985, where he was the executive editor of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review

Following law school, Marsico was a law clerk to Hon. Shirley Wohl Kram in the Southern District of New York.  He then worked as an attorney in the Bronx neighborhood office of the  civil division of the Legal Aid society, where he specialized in class action litigation around housing and working with community organizers to represent tenant associations in rent strikes, repair cases, and urban homesteading efforts.           

Stefanie Coyle is the Education Counsel at the New York Civil Liberties Union, where she focuses on education litigation and advocacy efforts across the state.   

She is a frequent commentator on issues of student privacy and the use of facial recognition technology and has appeared in Vice Magazine, Education Week, The 74, Politico New York, and other local New York publications.

Stefanie has a long track record of serving students, starting in the classroom as a kindergarten teacher in Phoenix, Arizona.  Prior to joining the NYCLU in 2017, she litigated arbitration cases for the New York City Department of Education and worked in-house for a NYC charter school network. Following law school, Stefanie was a litigation associate at Weil, Gotshal & Manges, LLP, where she was recognized for her pro bono work challenging New York’s funding scheme for Special Act schools with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.  As a law student, she co-founded the Education Law and Policy Society and served as an editor for the Michigan Journal of Race and Law.

Stefanie is currently a member of the New York City Bar Association’s Council on Children and Committee on Education and the Law, where she chairs the Subcommittee on Diversity.

Stefanie graduated Phi Beta Kappa and with high distinction from Pennsylvania State University’s Schreyer Honors College and received her law degree from the University of Michigan with a pro bono service certificate.

For over forty-five years, Advocates for Children of New York (“AFC”) has worked with New York City low-income families to secure quality and equal public education services for their children. AFC provides a range of direct services, including free individual case advocacy, such as representing children and families in proceedings under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) and also works on institutional reform of educational policies and practices through advocacy and litigation.

Rebecca Shore has served as the Director of Litigation at AFC since 2008.  After clerking in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, she was a litigation associate at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP where she worked on numerous special education cases and class and individual lawsuits involving disability discrimination.  Immediately prior to joining AFC, Rebecca was a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & AIDS Project, working on disability discrimination lawsuits against corporate and governmental entities.  As AFC’s Director of Litigation, Rebecca oversees all impact litigation, including class actions, individual and group lawsuits, IDEA appeals and fees complaints, and state and federal administrative complaints.  She has served as counsel in, among others, L.V. v. New York City Dep’t of Educ., D.S.  v. New York City Dep’t of Educ.E.B. v. New York City Dep’t of Educ., C.D. v. New York City Dep’t of Educ., and J.L. v. N.Y.C. Dep’t of Educ

Susan Horwitz, Esq is the Supervising Attorney of the Education Law Project at The Legal Aid Society. She graduated from Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in June, 1990, and is admitted in the First Department of New York State as well as the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York. Susan first joined the Legal Aid Society as a staff attorney in the Criminal Appeals Bureau and spent a year as a staff attorney in the Criminal Defense Practice before moving to the Civil Practice in January, 2003. Since that time she has represented hundreds of individuals and families who need assistance obtaining and preserving public benefits and social security disability benefits.

Since 2006, Susan has primarily focused on educational rights of students with disabilities who are living in poverty. She represents families at school meetings, mediations, and impartial hearings. Ms. Horwitz provides trainings for parents, pro bono attorneys, case handlers in other practices within The Legal Aid Society, school staff, and mental health providers on navigating the special education system, legal rules and remedies, and self-advocacy skills. In 2017, she developed, the LAS/Mt Sinai-St. Luke’s Child and Family Institute Medical-Legal Partnership. 

Susan is a long time member of COPAA and is the 2018 recipient of the American Bar Association’s Paul G. Hearne Award for Disability Rights.