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California Special Education Law 2020

Speaker(s): Elizabeth A. Estes, Elizabeth F. Eubanks, Heather Edwards, Jill Rowland, Kandace Hom-Hyvonen, Kathryn Dobel, Roberta S. Savage, Selene A. Almazan, Shawna Parks, Tae Mauk, Vanessa Riggs
Recorded on: Sep. 30, 2020
PLI Program #: 274964

Selene Almazan has represented students and families for over thirty years. Almazan is a former supervising attorney for the Legal Aid Bureau of Maryland representing children in the foster care system, including in special education matters. For nearly twenty-three years, Almazan represented parents in special education matters with a primary focus on least restrictive environment (LRE) issues at the Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education. Since September 2014, Almazan has been the legal director for the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, where Almazan supports the work of the amicus committee and works on federal and local policy issues. In this position, Almazan writes appellate amicus briefs for appellate courts as well as the US Supreme Court. She was counsel of record for COPAA as an amicus in Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools and counsel on COPAA’s amicus brief in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District. Since May 2015, Almazan maintains a private practice that focuses on parent and student representation in special education matters, including LRE. Almazan represents families at IEP team meetings, state complaint proceedings, mediations, due process hearings, suspension/expulsion proceedings, and federal court proceedings, including matters involving violations of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Almazan has extensive experience training families, teachers, school administrators, attorneys, and advocates on legal issues related to special education law, as well as disability discrimination issues. Almazan obtained a BA from University of Maryland, College Park, and a JD from Antioch School of Law.

Elizabeth Estes represents school districts and county offices of education throughout California. For the past twenty years she has focused her practice in the areas of special education and student matters. She brings extensive experience on legal matters including student discipline, inter-district transfers, open enrollment, First Amendment protections, IEP processes, discrimination, cyber-bullying, technology and media literacy, student assessment and achievement, program development, and much more. She has comprehensive litigation experience regarding special education programming and the rights of parents and children and has been integral in training attorneys statewide on these issues.

Based on a harrowing experience in college and a fundamental passion for education and children, Ms. Estes has dedicated her legal career to supporting schools and the children they serve. She is committed to championing education for the whole child and uniting the multiple agencies and parties that serve children to do the same. In these efforts, Ms. Estes has developed alternative dispute resolution processes and systems for families and agencies.  

Prior to joining AALRR, Estes served as the statewide chair of the Students and Special Education practice group at the law firm of Dannis Woliver Kelley (DWK). Before working at DWK, she served as counsel for dependent children in Los Angeles County.

Elizabeth received her Juris Doctorate from Pepperdine University School of Law and a Certificate in Dispute Resolution from the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution. After graduation, Elizabeth worked in private practice, advocating for parents of children with disabilities in regional center, school district, and health insurance matters. From 2012 to 2018 she was the Inland Empire Regional Director at Disability Rights Legal Center. As Regional Director, Elizabeth was responsible for special education advocacy and civil rights litigation within San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, specializing in disability discrimination cases. 

Elizabeth is an adjunct professor at the University of La Verne College of Law. She is the Director of the Law School’s Disability Rights Clinic and she teaches coursework in special education and disability rights law.

Elizabeth has presented seminars at national conferences, including at the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates and the American Bar Association. She has been the co-chair of Practising Law Institute’s annual Special Education Law Conference since 2012. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Autism Society, Inland Empire. 

Heather represents school districts, county offices of education, special education local plan areas (SELPAs), charter schools, nonpublic schools/agencies, and private schools in many aspects of education law.  She has extensive experience in the areas of special education, student issues, employment, labor relations, charter schools, and issues unique to county offices of education. In the area of special education, Heather has represented educational agencies at IEP meetings, mediations, due process hearings, state and federal court proceedings, and state and federal complaint procedures.  Heather has taught Education Law for the UC Davis Capitol Area North Doctorate in Educational Leadership (CANDEL) Program and for the Sacramento County Office of Education’s Teacher Intern Program. Prior to joining Girard, Edwards, Stevens & Tucker LLP, Heather served as the Assistant Executive Director of the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association (CCSESA). Heather also serves of the Board of Directors for Hands4Hope, a nonprofit, youth-driven organization based in Northern California.

Jill is the Director of the Education Program at the Alliance for Children's Rights, a nonprofit legal services organization dedicated to ensuring that children have the safe, stable homes, healthcare, and education they need to thrive. In her role, Jill provides direct representation of foster youth in special and general education matters, as well as improving outcomes for system-involved youth through local and statewide policy creation and implementation. Jill is an expert in every area of education impacting foster youth, including early intervention, special education, general education, school discipline, and interrupting the school-to-prison pipeline. Jill’s vision has grown the Alliance’s Education Program in response to the needs of our clients: from pioneering legal representation for early intervention services to addressing the unique trauma-related education needs of foster and probation youth. Her collaborative approach led to the creation of the Foster Youth Education Toolkit and its Court Companion, the training of thousands of school district and foster/probation system personnel (including social workers, probation officers, attorneys, and judges), and improved foster youth policies now put into practice in multiple school districts. Jill is passionate about providing foster and probation youth with an equitable education, so they can succeed in college, work, and life. She earned her JD at UCLA School of Law, specializing in Critical Race Studies. She majored in Communication and Sociology at UC Santa Barbara. She has practiced special education law since 2004, initially at a private firm before joining the Alliance in 2006.

Kandace Hom-Hyvonen is a Children Services Administrator with the County of Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and has over two years of experience with the Education and Developmental Services Section.  Prior to this, she served for ten years as a Children’s Social Worker and Supervising Children’s Social Worker.  Ms. Hom-Hyvonen received her undergraduate degrees in Psychology and Social Behavior and Criminology, Law, and Society from UC Irvine and her Master of Social Work from CSU Long Beach.

Kathryn Dobel, Esq. has over four decades of experience representing students with special education needs and their families. She was first involved with disability rights in educational programs as a parent at informal planning meetings for her 7 year old stepson during her first year of law school during the 1975-1976 school year. By 1980 her stepson’s educational program required litigation. Since then Kathryn’s practice has concentrated on securing the individual legal rights of students with disabilities pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (previously the 1975 Education For All Handicapped Children Act) and Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. 

Kathryn has successfully litigated several cases of first impression in the Ninth Circuit, beginning with McSomebodies (which upheld the two year retroactive requirements of the attorney’s fee provision added to federal law in 1986), and in 1989 began a 5 year period litigating the Union School District case, cited now for its requirement of a specific written offer of placement (and codification in the IDEA), but the hearing decision in 1990 was better known as the first case in the country to order that a preschool student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) could consist of a full time Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) program directed by Ivar Lovaas. 

From 1989 through 1994, Kathryn litigated the seminal inclusion case  known as Sacramento City USD v Rachel H. as co-counsel with attorneys from Disability Rights Defense Fund, and wrote about the case in “Representing Rachel” for the UC Davis Journal of Juvenile Law and Policy (Vol. 5, Summer 2001, Number 2). Rachel’s case is utilized as the procedural framework for determining Least Restrictive Environment. 

Following the Union holding in 1994. Kathryn consulted and/or co-counseled in cases of first impression that were successful in obtaining ABA programs as the primary educational programs for children on the autism spectrum throughout California, and in Oregon, Nevada, Arizona and Washington. She authored a chapter on obtaining a Free and Appropriate Public Education in the 2003 Lovaas book on education of children with autism, Obtaining a Free and Appropriate Public Education for Preschool-Age Children with Autism or Pervasive Developmental Disorders, Teaching Individuals with Developmental Delays: Basic Intervention Techniques by O. Ivar Lovaas, Chapter 37, PRO-ED, Inc. 2003.  She also authored a chapter in a book by Dr. Bryna Siegel, Navigating the Legal Byways; Entitlements that Foster Learning, Getting the Best for your Child with Autism – An Expert’s Guide to Treatment (Guilford Press, New York, 2008).

Kathryn has regularly presented at workshops, attorney, advocate and parent trainings regarding the legal rights of students with disabilities, and has presented to the California Department of Education, LRP, and Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) annual conferences.  She has served on the Advisory Committee to the Special Education Hearing Office in California and participated in training sessions for California Special Education Hearing Officers (SEHO) and mediators at McGeorge School of Law from 1989-2005.  She has participated in Advisory Committee meetings and Administrative Law Judge trainings with the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) since July of 2005, including as one of four attorney presenters for the Seattle University School of Law Administrative Law Judge training in 2008, and presenting in 2011on the topic of science-based educational programming for students on the autism spectrum. 

Kathryn is a founding member of the COPAA Board, and served as Chair for the 2001-2002 term.  After departing from the COPAA Board, she served on the Government Relations Committee for COPAA and remained active in lobbying efforts for IDEA concerns in DC. She is the past Co-Chair of the California Association for Parent-Child Advocacy (CAPCA).  In that capacity, Kathryn has testified before the California Legislature select committees on Education and was invited to testify before Congress about the Reauthorization of the IDEA. In 2006, Kathryn was the Northern California Director of a Special Education Advocacy Training grant from the U.S. Department of Education received by COPAA and USC UCEDD. From 2006 through 2018, she served on the Board of the Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT) and held the position of Secretary, Vice-President and President before moving onto the Advisory Board.

Kathryn is based in Berkeley, CA, where she now enjoys working from home, with the company of her husband, five daughters, 7 grandchildren, and wheaten terrier Ella.

Mr. Tae Mauk has been a creative and transformational leader in the field of education for over 20 years.  Prior to joining the leadership team within the Division of Juvenile Justice, Tae served general and special education students as a teacher, vice principal, and principal.  With experience in Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, trauma-informed practice and motivational interviewing, he was able to transform several antiquated educational programs into a progressive, student-centered, project-based learning model.  He holds degrees in Business Administration and Teaching along with four educational credentials issued by the State of California.  Tae is a proud son of an immigrant mother and is the first in his family to finish high school and obtain a college degree.

Shawna L. Parks is the principal and founder of the Law Office of Shawna L. Parks, which litigates civil rights, education and disability rights cases, including both individual cases and class actions. She is currently class counsel on a number of education cases, including a case alleging systemic failure to identify and evaluate students in need of special education services. Her education work has a particular emphasis on cases involving youth with disabilities who have behavior issues and/or where there is court or police involvement, youth with chronic medical conditions, youth with mental health conditions, and environmental justice issues at schools. Ms. Parks has twice been named an Attorney of the Year by California Lawyer Magazine, is a recipient of the Breaking Education Barriers award from Learning Rights Law Center, and a two-time finalist for Trial Lawyer of the Year Award by Public Justice. From 2007-2012, Ms. Parks was an adjunct professor at Loyola Law School where she co-taught Disability Rights and Special Education Law and has been the Director of Litigation at both Disability Rights Legal Center in Los Angeles and Disability Rights Advocates in Berkeley. She earned her undergraduate degree from University of California, Berkeley, and her J.D. degree from Berkeley Law. She has also been a Fulbright Scholar and Equal Justice Works Fellow.

Vanessa has over twenty years’ experience working with students with disabilities. She was first involved with students with disabilities by working in in-home programs for children with autism through a Lovaas replication site and substitute teaching. Vanessa has worked in school districts as a program specialist and school psychologist specializing in autism, inclusion, reading intervention, and mental health. Over the last ten years, she has continued her career as an educational administrator working as a SELPA coordinator and Special Education Director. Vanessa has the opportunity to participate in several large state projects such as CAPTAIN (California Autism Professional Training and Information Network), PENT (Positive Environment Network of Trainers), and sat on the Senate Select Committee for Autism. Vanessa is a guest lecturer at local colleges and universities on many aspects of special education.

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