New Mission

New Mission


My idea is to explore how other countries around the world are dealing with education and special education issues. I’d like to see different successful schools, wherever they may be, up close. I’d like to sit down with directors and administrators. I’d like to speak with government officials who keep a pulse on the education affairs of their communities. I want to learn more about education around the globe through speaking with locals, seeing the schools, and shaking hands with the people responsible for implementing the systems. If you know of any outstanding (public or private) special needs schools in other parts of the world, I’d love to hear about them. If you know any education experts from around the world, I’d love to be introduced to them. Please do not hesitate to share your thoughts or ideas. Read more about my mission.

Search This Blog

Monday, January 15, 2018

U.S. Department of Education Issues Guidelines for Understanding and Implementing the Endrew F. Decision

The United States Department of Education recently released guidelines regarding the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District.   

For those who would like some background about the case, please see our March 29, 2017 blog post discussing the Endrew F. decision.  You can access that blog post here: 

http://blog.dayanlawfirm.com/2017/03/scotus-decides-endrew-f-case-and.html

The purpose of the guidelines is to provide parents and others with information about the issues addressed in the decision and about implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in light of this decision.

The guidance memorandum is available at the following link:

https://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/memosdcltrs/qa-endrewcase-12-07-2017.pdf 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Time & Space

Where Are We In Time & Space? is a question I asked myself today.  January in New York can get cold and gloomy, especially last week when we endured haltingly cold, near-zero temperatures, "bomb cyclones," and powerful gales of wind.  Right now, the days are short, the trees are bare, the streets are slushy, the people are clad in boots and heavy clothing, and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) may be kicking in (it's not lost on me that that acronym spells the very word that the disorder describes). We are crashing hard after the Christmas/New Year's peak and counting down the days to President's Week.

But we have to push on and our law firm is doing just that.  Mid-way through the 2017-2018 school year, we are taking stock of the statuses of our clients' cases.  We have litigated and prevailed in numerous impartial hearings of different kinds.  We have successfully resolved transportation issues.  We have negotiated substantial settlements with school districts.  We are continuing to file due process complaints to move our clients' matters forward and we are confident about our ability to achieve positive outcomes. 

At our law office, our team has been meeting on a weekly basis to discuss where cases stand and how to address our clients' needs.  We have been thinking creatively and collaboratively about how to approach our clients' cases in order to achieve the results that our clients seek.  Our team is working diligently to attend to our clients and guide them through NYC's special education gauntlet. 

I am pleased that clients have been coming in to our office for in-person meetings to discuss the current school year, review their children's progress or lack thereof, and map out next steps.  These face-to-face interactions have been energizing for our team.  If you have not yet come in, please reach out about scheduling an appointment. 

As we collectively trudge through the rest of winter, and the 2017-2018 school year, our law office would like to remind you about a few points concerning your child's education:

  • Timing: It is not too early to start thinking about your child's program and placement for the 2018-2019 school year. 
  • Communication: Continue to speak with your child's teachers and providers to ensure that he/she is making progress.  At any point between now and the end of the school year, you may learn that your child is struggling in the classroom and perhaps not receiving adequate programming, services, supports, or interventions.  Updated testing may be necessary or your child's program may need to be modified.  Keep an eye out for red flags, which could include poor grades, acting out, boredom/frustration, social/emotional withdrawal, etc. 
  • Testing and Applications: Psychological evaluations can take time and require planning.  For instance, in some cases it can take 1-2 months to obtain an appointment, and several weeks more to complete testing and reporting.  School admissions applications require planning too.  Leave yourself enough time to complete these processes and adequately plan next steps.  
  • IEP Meetings: IEP meetings are being scheduled and will be held over the next few months leading up to the start of the 2018-2019 school year.  Be prepared to attend them and make sure that the appropriate individuals from your child's current program are prepared to attend the meetings as well.  Make sure that you have all your ducks in a row, including updated paperwork, to increase the likelihood that you will secure the supports that your child needs.  
  • Resources: We pride ourselves on being a one-stop-shop of sorts and we can put you in touch with the right professionals.  These professionals will help you understand why your child is struggling and what kinds of supports your child needs in order to progress.  

Please do not hesitate to reach out to us to discuss your situation and figure out what steps you should be taking.  In the meantime, stay warm and safe.  We look forward to speaking with you soon. 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Some Thoughts for the New Year

This week I was able to get away from the office for a family ski trip to Park City, Utah.  It was a welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of New York City and I was looking forward to spending time in a quiet and beautiful place that I knew would offer amazing natural beauty.

I am not an avid skier and, frankly, there is nothing about skiing that comes naturally to me.  At 6'3, I find that my height usually works against me because skiing demands keeping your body low to the ground.  For that reason and others, I was definitely outside my comfort zone, but I was excited about hitting the slopes nevertheless.

Once I started skiing, I was awed by the natural beauty surrounding me.  At the top of one of our ski trails, we took in a panoramic view of the Wasatch mountain range.  What a beautiful sight!  The mountain range stood beyond the ski trails, wide and vast, impossible to perceive all at once.  The mountains were brownish/gray and streaked with snow.  I followed the peaks and valleys with my eyes, thinking that they seemed solid and unified, peaceful and still.  They were expressive, rugged, natural, ancient, impressive, and awe-inspiring.  As I admired them, I felt free and calm.  What was most memorable was where it took me: to a happy and peaceful place where I felt connected to nature and to others.

After skiing, I tried snowmobiling for the first time.   I was nervous at first, unsure of what to expect.  When I started out on the trail, I was tentative.  After a few minutes, I became more comfortable in my vehicle.  We were guided to the top of a mountain where I took in another breathtaking view.  We then descended a steep cliff and roamed free across wide swaths of snowy terrain.  It was fun and exhilarating.  Eventually, when our time was up, we made our way back to our starting point.  In the few minutes before we arrived there, I slipped into a sublime mental state.  The snow surrounding me blended into a single whiteness.  I became part of an enveloping white blanket and everything around me went silent.  I came out of it feeling a profound serenity and clearheadedness.

Apart from the exciting activities described above, my trip was also special because it was my first trip with my daughter who just turned four months old.  My wife and I weren't sure what to expect.  Being in the mountains at high altitudes and in wholly unfamiliar environs could have presented many problems for our infant.  By all accounts so far, she has been a superstar (red-eye flight home pending).  She was well-behaved throughout the trip whether we were sitting in a restaurant, shopping, strolling outside, or traveling in a car.  Together we've enjoyed exploring Park City and relaxing.  Most of all, I enjoyed seeing all of the miraculous things she is doing (breathing, eating, smiling, interacting, and expressing her needs, albeit without words) and felt very grateful for them.  It has been amazing getting to know her and watching her develop.  

This New Year's, I would like to wish you and your family all the best in 2018.  I hope you experience awe, new adventures, excitement, peacehappiness, and family togetherness.  I hope your children continue to develop, grow, and succeed and I hope you continued to be amazed by their accomplishments.

Finally, I would like to wish you serenity, clearheadedness, and connectedness, which I was fortunate to experience in Park City this year.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Manhattan Children's Center Seeds Of Hope Gala

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Manhattan Children's Center's (MCC) Seeds Of Hope gala at The Plaza Hotel in Manhattan.  For MCC, this year's celebrations marked ten years of educating children with autism.  I particularly enjoyed hearing remarks from Dr. Cecilia McCarton, founder of The McCarton Center for Developmental Pediatrics and the Keswell School, who was awarded the Distinguished Scientist Award, and Dr. Orrin Devinsky, a friend of Dr. Oliver Sacks, a pioneer in the research of individuals with autism and severe neurological disorders who was posthumously awarded the MCC Humanitarian Award.

Dr. McCarton spoke touchingly about her experience working with individuals with autism and also highlighted the collaboration she has observed between parents, educators, therapists, and professionals in the MCC community, which has facilitated effective instruction and meaningful progress.  Dr. Devinsky spoke warmly about Dr. Sacks and painted a picture of a man whose love for his patients allowed him to understand his patients in a profound and personal way.

On this special 10 year anniversary, I would like to extend a heartfelt congratulations to MCC on the wonderful work they have done and wish them continued growth and success over the decades to come.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Tribeca Film Festival & Disability

I am a big fan of the Tribeca Film Festival and look forward to attending whenever the event rolls around.  At this year's festival, I had the pleasure of seeing a film called Keep The Change.  It is a beautiful film that explores a relationship between two individuals with special needs.  Written and directed by Rachel Israel, it is touching, funny, and very enjoyable.  It is also authentic in that the actors themselves have disabilities of their own.  After the screening, the audience was treated to a Q&A with some of the actors and Ms. Israel.  

If you are interested in seeing Keep The Change, there are still two screenings remaining on Tuesday, April 25 at 7:45 p.m. and Sunday, April 30 at 5:45 p.m., although tickets appear to be available on a rush basis only.  You can read more about the film here.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

SCOTUS Decides Endrew F. Case And Establishes New Legal Standard

The U.S. Supreme Court recently decided the case of Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District (see 10/1/16 and 1/17/17 blog posts for further background).  In a unanimous decision penned by Chief Justice John Roberts, SCOTUS held that, to meet its obligations under the IDEA, a school district must offer an IEP reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child's circumstances.

In considering the issue of what level of benefit is guaranteed to individuals with disabilities, the Supreme Court revisited Rowley, a 1982 Supreme Court case which first considered the FAPE requirement.  Rowley involved a child with a disability who was placed in a regular education classroom environment and was making steady progress.  The Supreme Court in Rowley decided that the school district had met its burden of providing the child at issue with a FAPE, and was unwilling to articulate a standard that would relate to all students with disabilities including those who were placed in special education classrooms.  Although the Court in that case stated that its decision was limited to the particular facts of the case, the Rowley decision has been somewhat problematic for parents over the last 35 years because school districts have often cited Rowley as a basis for denying parents the additional supports and services that their children might need.

In articulating a more robust standard in Endrew F., the Supreme Court indicated that the new standard was necessary "to remedy the pervasive and tragic academic stagnation" that caused Congress to pass IDEA legislation in the first place.  The Court made clear that the standard it was articulating was more demanding than the "merely more than de minimis" test proffered by the school district and applied by the 10th Circuit.  (Interestingly, Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch was responsible for that 10th Circuit decision.)  The Court also noted that every student's program must be appropriately ambitious and every student should have the chance to meet challenging objectives.

Under the new standard, for a child who is fully integrated into a regular education classroom, appropriate progress will typically mean passing marks and advancement from grade to grade (discussed further below).  For a child who is not fully integrated into a regular education classroom, however, the amount of progress that a child should be making according to his/her IEP will depend on the child's unique circumstances.

The Court was unwilling, however, to adopt the "equal opportunity" standard proposed by Endrew F.'s parents.  That is, the Court was unwilling to define FAPE as "an education that aims to provide a child with a disability opportunities to achieve academic success, attain self-sufficiency, and contribute to society that are substantially equal to the opportunities afforded children without disabilities."  Although the legislative intent of the IDEA makes clear that Congress did mean for students with disabilities to have opportunities to achieve academic success, attain self-sufficiency, and contribute to society, the Court was unwilling to require those opportunities to be substantially equal to the opportunities afforded children without disabilities.

The Court refused to establish a bright-line rule or elaborate on what appropriate program would look like in each case.  As a result, the definition of "appropriate" will likely continue to be the source of much litigation between parents and school districts.  

Finally, as I alluded to above, the Court specifically noted that there may be instances where a child is enrolled in a regular education environment, obtaining passing marks, and advancing from grade to grade, but still not be receiving FAPE (see footnote on page 14 of the decision).  Take, for instance, the case of a twice exceptional (2E) student who is intellectually gifted, obtaining passing marks with little effort, and being promoted from grade to grade.  If that 2E student's curriculum is not appropriately ambitious in light of his/her exceptional needs and abilities, it could be that the school district is not providing that student with FAPE.  Time will tell how administrative law judges and courts are going to deal with this kind of situation.

In light of the foregoing, the 10th Circuit's decision was vacated, and the case was remanded for further consideration consistent with the Supreme Court's decision.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Nosh & Knowledge at Cardozo Law School

Last week I had the pleasure of participating as the featured speaker in Cardozo Law School's Nosh & Knowledge program.  The program is intended as an informal dialogue between practitioners and law students to introduce students to different practice areas.

I met with 1L's, 2L's, and 3L's and spoke with them about the field of special education law.  I provided an overview of the field and described the nature of our legal practice.  We also discussed recent trends and developments, and opportunities for aspiring special education lawyers.  The students were engaged and enthusiastic, and asked thoughtful questions.

For those at Cardozo who may be interested in special education law, I would strongly encourage you to look into Cardozo's special education field clinic, which gives students the opportunity to complete an externship program at Advocates For Children.

Additionally, we are accepting applications for summer and fall internships at our law firm.  Interested candidates can forward their cover letters and resumes to info@dayanlawfirm.com.  

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Dear Evan Hansen

I've seen Dear Evan Hansen twice so far (off-Broadway when it debuted, and recently on Broadway).  Without giving anything away, the show revolves around a high school boy trying to find himself and deals with important issues concerning identity, self-esteem, and fitting in.  I enjoyed the show immensely both times but I have been struggling to put my finger on why the show has affected me so profoundly on both a personal and professional level.  

On a personal level, I think it conjures up memories of teenage angst.  I wince sometimes when I think about how much "fitting in" mattered in high school.  How much your identity was wrapped up in who your friends were and how they perceived you.  I remember my own angst and anxiety and feeling a sense of helplessness in figuring out how to cope with them.

Most people are able to emerge from that place of teenage angst.  They strengthen their sense of self, learn how to self-advocate and cope, and find themselves eventually.  But some don't.  And sometimes the feeling of being overwhelmed by angst, anxiety, disconnection, and despair can be so crippling that it results in tragedy.  Dear Evan Hansen confronts that fact.

On a professional level, I think the show reinforced my commitment to my work.  As an attorney who represents individuals with special needs, I am fortunate to be in a position to be able to help people who struggle with the kinds of emotional and social issues that are central to Dear Evan Hansen by assisting them in obtaining the kinds of supports/services that can help them address their challenges and learn how to move forward.

Dear Evan Hansen connected with my childhood self as well as my adult self.  The result was a powerful experience that has left a lasting impression.  Thank you Ben Platt and the rest of the incredible Dear Evan Hansen cast for bringing this story to the stage.  

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools

The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) recently decided the case of Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools, which has important implications for families of children with disabilities and whether they have a duty to exhaust Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) administrative proceedings before pursuing a claim under other laws that protect individuals with disabilities such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504).

This case involved a young girl with a severe form of cerebral palsy who required the assistance of a service dog to assist her with various daily life activities.  The school district refused to allow the girl to bring her service dog to school because it believed that the 1:1 aid the district had recommended on her IEP obviated the need for a service dog.  The Frys believed that the school district had violated their daughter's rights under the ADA and Section 504, and they filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking declaratory relief and monetary damages for emotional distress under those statutes.  They did not include IDEA claims in their federal lawsuit.

Both the federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit held that the Frys had an obligation to pursue their claims through the IDEA administrative process before filing their ADA and Section 504 claims in federal court.  The 6th Circuit's reasoning was that a plaintiff must exhaust the IDEA's administrative procedures whenever a plaintiff's alleged harms are educational in nature.  That language sounds pretty broad...

In light of the above, a central question before SCOTUS on appeal was, When must a plaintiff exhaust the IDEA's administrative proceedings before bringing claims under other statutes?  

From our law firm's perspective and for others who practice in this field, the Court's consideration of this issue is very welcomed.  Requiring parents who are not challenging FAPE and cannot obtain the remedies they are seeking under the IDEA to exhaust their IDEA remedies before proceeding to federal court is a waste of time and resources.  Additionally, there has been a significant amount of uncertainty relating to what claims can or cannot be heard in IDEA administrative proceedings, how the pleading of non-IDEA claims affects the parties' respective burdens of proof, and how non-IDEA claims should be pled or handled in IDEA proceedings in order to preserve one's rights under the ADA and Section 504 for future litigation in federal court.  Fortunately, the Supreme Court has chimed in.  

SCOTUS held that exhaustion of the IDEA's administrative procedures is unnecessary where the gravamen of the plaintiff's suit is something other than the denial of a free appropriate public education (FAPE), the core right under the IDEA.  

So how do you determine whether or not the core issue in a lawsuit is a denial of FAPE?  First, pursuant to the Supreme Court's ruling in Fry, courts will need to look carefully at the substance of a party's legal papers to determine what the case is about.  A party, for example, would not be able to escape the exhaustion rule simply by omitting the term "IDEA" from its legal papers (a technique referred to as "artful pleading").  But if, for instance, a plaintiff is seeking something other than relief for the denial of a FAPE, such as damages as a result of having been denied equal access to a public facility or having been otherwise discriminated against, then the exhaustion rule may not apply.  Courts will also look at the history of the proceedings to inform their determination.  That is, if a party has pursued administrative procedures under the IDEA in the past, that could be an indication that the substance of the party's claims relates to the IDEA.

It is interesting to note that the Court specifically did not answer the question of whether exhaustion is required when he plaintiff complains of the denial of a FAPE but the specific remedy requested is not one that an IDEA hearing officer may award.  

Justice Kagan wrote the Court's opinion, 5 other justices joined in, and 2 justices concurred in part; there were no dissenters.  SCOTUS remanded the case to the 6th Circuit for further consideration as to whether the gravamen of the Frys' complaint relates to a denial of FAPE, and whether the Frys previously availed themselves of the IDEA's administrative procedures.  

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

COPAA 2017

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates' 2017 conference in Dallas, Texas (my eighth COPAA conference).

Some of the highlights of this year's conference included:

  • General session and town hall with an esteemed panel that discussed shaping COPAA's mission, maximizing its impact, and humanizing the idea of disability.  
  • Selena Almazan and Denise Marshall's session titled School Vouchers and Students with Disabilities: Examining Impact in the Name of Choice.  This topic is particularly relevant now in light of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos's school choice movement.  During the session, data was presented and questions were raised concerning the effectiveness of school choice programs.  The group debated whether students with disabilities will benefit or be harmed by school vouchers.  And we considered some of the challenges that threaten the success of school voucher programs and how those challenges might be addressed.  
  • Judith Gran's Analysis of Educational Benefit Standards, which addressed what level of educational benefit is required under current case law for a student with a disability in order for the student's program to be considered appropriate.  This topic is very timely in light of the Endrew F. litigation pending before the U.S. Supreme Court (see 10/1 blog post for a discussion of the case).
  • Keynote presentation by Gary Guller, a disabled man who defied his physical limitations by climbing to the top of Mount Everest and, during the course of his journey, led Team Everest, a group of disabled individuals on an expedition to basecamp. 

COPAA is a wonderful organization with an important mission.  To learn more about its work or about how you can become involved, visit the website at www.copaa.org.

On a lighter note, Dallas is full of interesting things to see and do.  It is worth exploring the Dallas Museum of Art, the Katy Trail, and the city's excellent restaurants.  Dallas is also the city where JFK was shot so those wanting to learn more about that dark moment in American history can visit Dealey Plaza where a museum is now located.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Cardozo Law School Symposium on Personhood and Civic Engagement by People with Disabilities

This is a follow-up to my previous post about Cardozo's Symposium on Personhood and Civic Engagement by People with Disabilities.  Those who attended the symposium were rewarded with a fantastic event consisting of thought-provoking panels and highly esteemed panel members.  Some of the biggest highlights for me included: 

1) Rosemarie Garland-Thomson's discussion about personhood and the roles that government, science, and culture play in defining it.  She spoke captivatingly about the study of eugenics and the role it has played in influencing society's views toward and treatment of people with disabilities throughout history.  I was surprised to learn of a quote from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes from Buck v. Bell, 274 U.S. 200 (May 2, 1927), a case which is considered to have legitimized the eugenics movement in the U.S., in which Justice Holmes stated "three generations of imbeciles are enough" in supporting a Virginia statute providing for the sexual sterilization of those deemed to be unfit to bear children.  That led me to do some further research.  If you'd like to read more about this case and its role in the eugenics movement, check out Buck v. Bell and HuffPo.

The eugenics movement in the U.S. and the aftermath from World War II and the Holocaust led to a series of declarations, agreements, and laws regarding personhood, including the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA or EHA), which later evolved into the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).      

2) Eric Rosenthal's talk about his organization Disability Rights International (DRI), which is dedicated to the protection and full inclusion of children and adults with disabilities under international human rights law.  Learning about and fighting for the rights of people with disabilities on an international level is something that interests me deeply.  One of the points from Eric's talk that stayed with me was the importance of directing foreign aid in an appropriate manner so as to bring about positive and meaningful results instead of perpetuating organizations that may be harmful.  More information about the organization and its work can be found on DRI's website at http://www.driadvocacy.org/.

3) Judge Kristin Booth Glen'sRobert Dinerstein's, and Leslie Salzman's lectures about exercising legal capacity.  Specifically, they addressed some of the problems with guardianship and the extent to which guardianship takes away decision-making power from the individual and deprives the individual of opportunities to interact meaningfully with others. They also explained the concept of Supported Decision Making, meant to provide individuals with disabilities more decision-making power through a series of contracts to make and communicate their decisions for various situations.  This raised a number of questions for me, such as: how would these agreements be written, what kinds of decisions would they address, how would they be implemented and enforced, what costs would be involved for the individual's family, and what kind of legislation would be necessary to make this possible. 

Other highlights from the symposium included watching a powerful video performance of "Gimp" by the Heidi Latsky Dance group, an organization dedicated to broadening exposure to disability and dance, and hearing from Bernard Carabello, a former inmate at the infamous Willowbrook State School in New York, who collaborated with Geraldo Rivera to expose Willowbrook's abuses, which led to the shuttering of the institution and the start of a movement to end institutionalization and promote inclusion. 

Cardozo will be publishing scholarly articles written by some of the panelists on some of these topics in an upcoming law review journal.  I will be looking out for it.   

I also want to note that it's been almost 9 years since I graduated from Cardozo.  Union Square is still young and cool.  The New School still dominates the corner of 14th Street and 5th Avenue albeit in its new honeycomb form.  NYU's presence continues to be felt (even more so now that they have taken over the old Forbes building directly across from Cardozo).  And as much as the area has stayed the same, I know I have not, and it was interesting to reflect upon that as I walked from the subway station to the school.   

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Cardozo Law School Symposium on Personhood and Civic Engagement by People with Disabilities

I am excited to be returning tomorrow to Cardozo Law School, my alma mater, for a symposium on personhood and civic engagement by people with disabilities.  I hope to write a post later with some highlights from the event.  In the meantime, here is an overview of the program:

Personhood and Civic Engagement 
by People with Disabilities: 
A Conference to Explore the Legal Underpinnings of Personhood and the Barriers to Participation by Persons with Disabilities in Civic and Social Life

A Cardozo Law Review Annual Symposium 
The Symposium will feature Professor Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, as the Keynote Presenter, and Professor Samuel Bagenstos, as the Featured Lunchtime Speaker. Panels will focus on the topics of Personhood in Popular Culture, Exercising Legal Capacity, and the Uses of "Disability," as well as Strategies for Promoting Inclusion.
Thursday, February 23, 2017
9:00 a.m - 7:15 p.m.

8:30 am - 9:00 am - Registration and Breakfast (Lobby)

9:00 am - 10:00 am - Keynote Presentation by Professor Rosemarie Garland-Thomson (Moot Court Room)

10:00 am - 11:15 am - The Interplay Between Notions of Personhood in Popular Culture and Developments in the Law (Moot Court Room)
Moderated by David Ferleger, Esq. 
Panelists:
  • Elizabeth Francis Emens, Columbia Law School
  • Faye Ginsburg & Rayna Rapp, New York University 
  • Jerron Herman, Heidi Latsky Dance
  • Ruth Lowenkron, New York Lawyers for the Public INterest

11:30 am - 1:00 pm - Exercising Legal Capacity: Legal Barriers to the Actualization of Personhood (Moot Court Room)
Moderated by Robert Fleischner, Center for Public Representation 
Panelists:
  • Robert Dinerstein, American University Washington College of Law 
  • The Honorable Kristin Booth Glen, City University of New York School of Law
  • Arlene S. Kanter, Syracuse University College of Law
  • Danielle Lazzara, Quality Services for the Autism Community (QSAC)
  • Leslie Salzman, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law

1:00 pm - 1:30 pm - Lunch (Lobby)

1:30 pm - 2:30 pm - Featured Lunchtime Presentation by Professor Samuel Bagenstos (Moot Court Room)

2:45 pm - 4:15 pm - On the Uses of "Disability" in Pursuing and Realizing Rights (Moot Court Room)
Moderated by Professor Mark Weber, DePaul University College of Law 
Panelists:
  • Kevin Cremin, MFY Legal Services, Inc. 
  • Rebekah Diller, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law
  • Leslie Francis, University of Utah, & Anita Silvers, San Francisco State University
  • Shira Grabelsky, New Mexico School for the Deaf
  • The Honorable Robert M. Levy, Eastern District of New York

4:30 pm - 5:45 pm - Strategies for Promoting Inclusion (Moot Court Room)
Moderated by Professor William Brooks, Touro College, Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center 
Panelists:
  • Ruth Colker, Mortiz College of Law
  • Anne Emerman, Social Worker, Disability Rights Activist 
  • Sagit Mor, University of Haifa
  • Eric Rosenthal, Disability Rights International

5:45 pm - 7:15 pm - Reception & Dinner to honor the Keynote Presenter, Featured Lunchtime Presenter, Panelists and Moderators (Lobby)

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Betsy DeVos Confirmed As U.S. Education Secretary

Betsy DeVos was confirmed as education secretary today by Vice President Mike Pence as a result of a 50-50 tie in the senate.

The nomination, and now confirmation, of Ms. DeVos has been extremely controversial.

Critics of Ms. DeVos have pointed out that she is unaware of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the expansive federal law governing the rights of students with disabilities; that she has no experience with public school education and does not understand how the public education system works; and that her efforts relating to charter schools and voucher systems have not been effective.

Supporters of Ms. DeVos believe that an emphasis on charters and vouchers will give low-income families more choices as to where to send their children to school and force public schools to become more competitive.

Some other questions and concerns to note about DeVos's educational agenda:

  • Where will the funding for charter schools/voucher programs come from? 
  • What level of oversight/accountability will be imposed? 
  • Will vouchers be available to all or means-based? 
  • Can vouchers work with programs that follow a for-profit model? 

My personal thoughts will follow in a separate or updated post soon.

In the meantime here are some recent articles on the subject:

NY Times: Betsy DeVos Confirmed as Education Secretary; Pence Breaks Tie

The Atlantic: 5 Things to Know About Betsy DeVos, Trump's Pick for Education Secretary

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

UPDATE: Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District

In October, I posted about the Endrew F. case, which is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court concerning what level of educational benefit is required for a student with a disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  Since then there have been some important developments.

The federal government filed a brief in support of the child and his family, arguing that school districts should offer a program aimed at significant educational progress in light of the child's circumstances.  A number of groups submitted amicus briefs.  For instance, a group of 118 former and current members of Congress filed an amicus brief arguing that the IDEA intended to provide meaningful and material educational benefits so that students with disabilities could reach their potential and live independently.

Oral arguments happened last week on Wednesday, January 11.  The transcript of the oral arguments follows in the link below, as well as an article that provides a thorough analysis:

https://www.supremecourt.gov/oral_arguments/argument_transcripts/2016/15-827_gfbh.pdf

http://www.scotusblog.com/2017/01/argument-analysis-justices-grapple-proper-standard-measuring-educational-benefits-children-disabilities/

From what I have gathered so far, the justices seem to be of the mind that students with disabilities are entitled to greater educational benefit than the bare minimum.  However, they seem to be grappling with how to articulate a clear standard capable of implementation.

Some justices have expressed concerns about what additional costs this would impose on school districts; whether it is appropriate for the justices, who lack expertise in education, to be the ones creating this standard; how to deal with students who, because of their disabilities, are unable to follow the general education curriculum at grade level; and whether articulating a new standard would create a flood of litigation and lead to the Supreme Court becoming involved in other education-related decisions in the future.

SCOTUS is expected to issue a decision by the end of June 2017.  Stay tuned.  

A.M. v. New York City Department of Education

I am excited to write about an important case that was just decided by the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals -- A.M. v. New York City Department of Education (DOE).

This case involved a child with autism for whom there seemed to be a consensus that 1:1 ABA services were necessary based on private evaluative materials.  The school district had not conducted its own evaluations and did not have any materials suggesting that some other methodology should be used for this student.  The school district's IEP team, however, while it may have relied on the parent's private evaluations and professionals to better understand the child's needs, did not follow their recommendations.  This scenario may sound familiar to parents who have gone through the special education process expecting their team to follow the recommendations from the private professionals they have consulted.

One question presented in this case is, To what extent does an IEP team have to follow the recommendations of private evaluators and professionals with respect to the program and services that a child requires?  A related and broader question is, To what extent is a school district obligated to consider "methodology" in making recommendations for a child with special needs?  For example, in this case, where the child at issue was a child with autism for whom 1:1 ABA services were recommended, to what extent is a school district required to recommend the specific methodology of Applied Behavior Analysis, as opposed to a more eclectic instructional approach or a different one entirely?

A three-judge panel consisting of Judges Kearse, Wesley, and Droney agreed with the parent's argument that the IEP team's 6:1:1 classroom recommendation and its failure to guarantee any 1:1 ABA therapy in the IEP "went against the consensus of the evaluative materials present at the CSE meeting," which demonstrated that the child required ABA and a significant amount of 1:1 instruction.  The Court articulated the following principle:
[W]hen the reports and evaluative materials present at the CSE meeting yield a clear consensus, an IEP formulated for the child that fails to provide services consistent with that consensus is not "reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive educational benefits," and the state's determination to the contrary is thus entitled to no deference because it is unsupported by a preponderance of the evidence. . . .  This remains true whether the issue relates to the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction in a child's IEP. 
This is great language and parents should rely on this principle when advocating for specific programs and methodologies that have been recommended by private professionals.

Lots of good nuggets in this decision.  I want to highlight one more.

Parents familiar with the special education process who have had their children enrolled in private placements may have been told by their IEP team, "Well, your child is progressing so nicely at his/her private placement, it's time to transition him/her to a less restrictive setting."  The A.M. decision pointed out the flaws in this reasoning.  The Court stated that the logical inference that a child has made gains while attending a private placement "would suggest that the more restrictive academic setting in which he was learning adequately addressed his needs and should thus be continued; not that the program should be discontinued and that he should be transitioned to a less restrictive learning environment. . . ."

A great decision for parents of children with special needs.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Winston Transitions

Since visiting the Ann Sullivan Center (CASP) in 2013, I have been searching for programs in NYC that offer support to students transitioning from high school to the real world.  I had the opportunity this week to attend a presentation about the Winston Transitions program in Manhattan.  Winston Transitions is a new program for students with learning difficulties particularly in the areas of language, attention, processing, executive functioning, and social/emotional skills.  The presentation was given by John Civita, Director of Winston Transitions, and Elizabeth Mendelsohn, COO at Winston Prep and Director of the Winston Innovation Lab.

I found the Winston Transitions presentation to be extremely informative with respect to addressing the needs of students who are transitioning out of high school but not yet ready to move on to college or work.  The school offers a full-time program as well as a part-time option for those students who may be otherwise engaged with college or work.  The full-time program occurs five days per week roughly from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.  Through constant assessment, the school identifies the needs, abilities, and interests of each student, and customizes each student's program accordingly.  The school's academic curriculum focuses primarily on reading, writing, and math.  Classroom instruction occurs in small groups and is highly individualized.  Through the FOCUS program, students have the opportunity to receive 1:1 instruction in areas of need.  Much of the workload is project-based, affording students an opportunity to work independently and seek out assistance as needed.  There is also a heavy emphasis on social and interpersonal skills.

One of the aspects of the school that impressed me the most was the internship program.  Internships occur two days per week for roughly ten hours per week, and are tailored to the students' particular interests and strengths.  In order to foster independence and self-advocacy, students do not receive the support of job coaches.  Instead, constant collaboration occurs between Winston Transitions and the students' internship supervisors.  Students also receive training and feedback at the center, which provides an opportunity to reflect on the students' internship experiences, discuss how to handle internship-related situations, and practice the skills necessary to succeed in a work environment.  This practical piece, in my opinion, is crucial to the learning process, and I was amazed by the manner in which the school has been dealing with it.

Winston Transitions is affiliated with Winston Prep, a highly-regarded special education private school for students with language-based learning disabilities, but students need not have attended Winston Prep in order to be admitted into Winston Transitions.  It is also worth noting that the school building is conveniently located at 240 Madison Avenue not far from Grand Central station.  The floor includes a living room space, an activities room, classrooms, a kitchen, and a recording room (used to create podcasts), and offers a warm learning environment for its students.

A substantial number of the families enrolled at Winston Transitions receive government funding pursuant to remedies available under federal and state law for students with disabilities who have been denied an appropriate education by their local school districts.  Students who have received a high school diploma may not be eligible for such funding.  Parents should be mindful of this and consult an attorney for advice regarding how to approach this issue.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Transition Planning Event at the Rebecca School on November 8

Helping students transition from school to work and adult life is an important part of the special education progress that can be confusing and daunting for parents and is oftentimes overlooked by school districts.

If you would like to learn more about transition planning, the Rebecca School is presenting a panel event on this subject on November 8:

Transitions Panel 
Tuesday, November 8th, 11am – 1pm 

Rebecca School 
40 East 30th Street
New York, NY 10016
(212) 810-4120

Hear from & meet leaders in various post-21 capacities: Supportive Employment, Residential, Supportive Housing, Self-Direction, Parent and Consumer Perspectives, Entitlements, Financing, Higher Ed. 

Confirmed Speakers: Gil Tippy (Rebecca School), Kathy Kelly (AHRC), Amy O’Hara (Littman Krooks, LLP), Nelson Castro, Gina & Don Barone (Parents of RS alumni), Sam Wilkinson (RS alumni) Amel Whiteside (YAI), Meg Henderson & Martin Gitt (Camphill Triform), Frank Bresnick & Allison Sanchez (Jespy House), Nadine Daley (Center for Family Support), Samantha Fineman & Raul Jimenez (New Frontiers in Learning), Katrina Roberts (Job Path), Joseph Campagna (Home Connect) 

Panel: 11am – 12:30 pm 
Lunch & Networking: 12:30 – 1pm 

FREE. Open to RS parents, family members, & the public. 
Overlaps with the 3rd Annual Rebecca School Sibling Day. 
Space is limited. 

RSVP or for more info: Josh Noble, RS Transitions Coordinator. jnoble@rebeccaschool.org, 212-810-4120 x294

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District

The Supreme Court recently agreed to hear the case of Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, 798 F.3d 1329 (10th Cir., 2015), to consider what level of educational benefit is required for a student with a disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Every child with a disability has a right under federal and state education law to receive a free appropriate public education from his/her local school district. What constitutes an "appropriate education" for a student with a disability, however, is the source of much litigation.

Courts have generally held that a school district need not maximize a student's potential.  However, in considering what affirmative obligation a school district does have, different courts around the country have been applying different standards.

Some courts have held that an appropriate education is one designed to allow a student with a disability to achieve more than trivial advancement while other courts have held that an appropriate education must be reasonably calculated to result in meaningful or substantial educational benefit.

The Supreme Court is expected to chime in.  The outcome of this case could significantly affect the landscape of IDEA litigation and, more importantly, have broad implications for the rights of students with disabilities.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Book Talk Event with David Denby and Samuel Abrams

I am excited to pass along the following information for what promises to be a very interesting book talk event on Tuesday, June 28th at 7pm with David Denby, author of Lit Up, and Samuel E. Abrams, author of Education and the Commercial Mindset.​  

http://www.bookculture.com/event/columbus-david-denby-sam-abrams

Samuel E. Abrams is the Director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Teachers College.
David Denby is the author of Great Books, "an acclaimed account of returning to college and reading the Western classics during the curriculum wars"; American SuckerSnark, and Do the Movies Have a Future?  He is a staff writer and former film critic for The New Yorker,  and his reviews and essays have appeared in The New Republic, The Atlantic, and New York magazine, among other places. He lives in New York City with his wife, writer Susan Rieger.

 
Event address: 
450 Columbus Ave
New YorkNY 10024

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Facing History And Ourselves

Throughout school I hated History. I dreaded going to class, doing the homework, and studying for my History exams. I complained that it was "boring" but what that really meant was that I found it challenging to process and understand what I was learning because I had difficulty imagining myself in the shoes of the people I was learning about -- people of different cultures from my own, who were from far-flung countries that I knew little about, and who lived in distant times in the past. Because I was a diligent student who cared deeply about succeeding academically, my difficulty with History was a big blow to my confidence. I developed a strong aversion toward it and avoided it as much as possible. Over the years, this weakness nagged at me. At some point I decided to do something about it and began brushing up on my own through books, movies, travel, and other forms of learning. Today I am fascinated by History.

When I recently became acquainted with an organization called Facing History And Ourselves, I was immediately intrigued. Facing History is a non-profit international educational and professional development organization whose mission is to engage students of diverse backgrounds in an examination of racism and prejudice in order to help students make the connection between history and the moral choices they confront in their own lives. I have had the opportunity to learn more about the organization by familiarizing myself with its pedagogical principles, observing a classroom lesson, attending a teacher training workshop, and interacting with instructors and program directors. For example, during the class I observed, I listened to students discussing a piece of art depicting the Holocaust and considering what the artist may have been thinking or feeling while creating it. During the teacher training workshop, I listened to a room full of educators debating Indian Residential Schools (schools that were set up to re-educate Native American children by stripping them of their Native American heritage in order to get them to assimilate European customs) and considering what activities and exercises they might use in the classroom to teach this lesson to their students. The workshop sparked debate about identity, morality, racism, and religious/cultural intolerance. I have also found the reading materials to be well-organized, manageable in size, and thought-provoking.

I am amazed by how the program forces individuals to examine history through a critical lens -- considering difficult issues such as racism, discrimination, and genocide -- and asking important questions about what led to these events, how they could have been prevented, and what lessons can be derived for the future. Facing History emphasizes that the atrocities of the past didn't happen in an instant but, rather, in many cases they were the result of years of cultural and societal tensions.  

What I find most impressive about the program is how it connects the past to the present. I think Facing History has the power to help young students understand what I could not -- that history is intertwined with and relevant to our daily lives because we have the ability to draw from the lessons of the past to positively influence the present and future.

For more about Facing History, you can visit https://www.facinghistory.org/.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Michael Moore's Where To Invade Next

I liked Michael Moore’s new documentary, Where To Invade Next. What stayed with me most were his ruminations on education, society, and shared responsibility. The film highlighted various inequities in the U.S. such as our failing public education system, unfair drug laws, harsh prison system, and broken healthcare system. He posed the question, Why don’t we take better care of our own?

I’ll focus on education. In the U.S., our education system is broken in many ways. Moore travels to Finland, France, and Germany to glean important insights regarding education. In Finland, Moore learns about educating the whole child. Finnish schools assign little, if any, homework and have few, if any, standardized tests. Students are encouraged to play and socialize, think critically, be creative, and become independent. There is also equity in Finland, which means that most schools are of high quality, so children can attend their zoned schools instead of parents having to shop around. In France, school lunch programs are taken seriously. They boast a level of culinary excellence that does not exist in the U.S. They also have an instructional component, and students are taught how to maintain a balanced and healthy diet. In Germany, schools are exploring ways of teaching about the Holocaust. Their emphasis is on owning their country’s history (good and bad), recognizing where moral failures occurred, making amends for those failures, and improving their society as a result. We should be striving for these things in the U.S. American children would benefit from receiving a more well-rounded education, and learning how to live a healthier lifestyle. There should be a greater emphasis on recognizing our country’s moral failures, discussing them openly in a constructive manner, and grappling with how to learn from those experiences in order to improve as a society. I think there should be a greater push for this in our schools.

An Icelandic woman in the film remarked that, in the U.S., there is no shared responsibility and we don’t care about our neighbors. That our focus is more on “me” and less so on “we.” I reflected on that for a while. While I don’t fully agree with her, I do think we could do a better job of taking care of our own. Our country would be stronger for it. And taking care of our children by providing every child with a quality public school education would be a great place to start.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Celebrating Six Years

I started my law firm six years ago today.  I moved in to 100 Church Street by myself with a pad and a pen and nothing else on December 3, 2009.  I took a short-term lease to test out the waters; I wasn't sure what the future would hold.  "Okay, what do I do now...?" is a thought that ran through my mind a lot during those early days.  Of course I felt both excited and nervous, like the feeling of your first day of school.  But if I had to pinpoint the feeling, I'd compare it to being out at sea.  Sitting on a boat, in the middle of a vast ocean, surrounded by water as far as your eyes can see.  You have a destination, and you know it's right there, straight ahead, but you can't see it yet, and you are in awe of the vastness of what's in front of you.

So much to be done, but where to begin?  

I started with to-do lists.  Lots and lots of to-do lists to organize myself and keep focused.  I stayed busy and positive.  Build a website, place ads, print business cards, network, speak with parents, meet with schools, and find clients!

From time to time, when I needed a distraction or an emotional boost, I would turn on an episode of The Office.  Yup, watching The Office in the office.  The show was a gift from my then-girlfriend now-wife who bought me the first couple of seasons on DVD when I told her I had never seen the show.  Something tells me, though, that she probably didn't intend for me to watch it in the office.

I pounded the pavement, and clients started to call.  I was eager to provide exceptional service, obtain outstanding results, and impress my clients.  I am proud of the results we have achieved.  At the same time, with every new client comes the responsibility of proving ourselves again.  That is a responsibility I continue to take seriously no matter how long we've been around, how expert we've become, or what results we've achieved in the past.

I remember a friend questioning my decision to start my own firm.  Something to the effect of "Are you for real?"  I might have brushed it off then if not for the fact that I was doubting myself the same way he was doubting me.  Six years later, though, I can say, yes - I am for real.  The firm has grown significantly, and I feel like I've come a long way.  Since starting out, I have hired a full-time associate and office administrator.  We've handled hundreds of cases, helped numerous children and families, successfully litigated and settled cases of substantial monetary value, and built a reputation for tenaciousness, dedication, honesty, and exceptional results.   I take great pride in that, and look forward to helping many more families navigate the special education legal process.  I continue to be deeply interested and invested in the practice of special education law, which has been both professionally and personally fulfilling, and I am excited to see what the future holds.

I am thankful to the parents who have trusted us to advocate for their children, and the various professionals from whom I have learned so much.  I am excited about developing the firm's global mission and sharing my experiences with you.

While I reflect on this very happy six-year anniversary, I also look forward to many more years of advocating for children, and being able to watch them grow, develop, and succeed.

I would also like to take this opportunity to wish you and your families happy holidays and a wonderful new year.

All the best in 2016.  

AD

Friday, May 22, 2015

Speaking Engagement - Wednesday, May 27

I will be speaking at the Sephardic Academy of Manhattan on Wednesday, May 27 regarding the special education process for preschool and school-age students. Please find the relevant information below, and feel free to forward to anyone else who might be interested.


Special Education Services from the Department of Education

Date: Wednesday, May 27th 1:15PM

Location: Sephardic Academy of Manhattan
1274 2nd Avenue
New York, NY 10065




Educational Technology - The Nordic Way

I recently attended Education Technology - The Nordic Way, an event that was part of the Oppi Festival (http://2015.oppifestival.com/), which happened in New York earlier this month.  I like to think of as an ed-tech version of Shark Tank with a Nordic twist.  A panel of judges critiqued business pitches from education-minded entrepreneurs from Finland and Sweden.  The range of business ideas included exam taking software, an animation application, a cloud-based math curriculum, a platform for project-based learning, gamification, interactive three-dimensional teaching software, and a music learning application.  The presentations were interesting, and helped me think differently about how to utilize technology to improve education.

See also: https://storify.com/yangbodu/nordicedtech

Finland: Exceptional Programs

In this last blog post, I wanted to highlight three exceptional programs that I visited in Helsinki.


The Resonaari Music School is an amazing program that offers a variety of programs and opportunities for people of all ages and abilities. The directors of the program have incredible passion for their work, and the combination of their passion and the music thumping in the background entranced me. What struck me most about Resonaari was how the school supports people with special needs. While it is not exclusive to people with special needs, it provides a warm, nurturing environment in which they are able to discover abilities they never knew they had, connect with others through musical collaboration, and develop their sense of self-worth. Resonaari also provides extra support and modified instructional materials to those who require them. Observing one group of students, some of whom had special needs, while they practiced for an upcoming concert performance was one of the highlights of my visit.

I was also impressed by the program’s reach and influence. Resonaari has collaborated with the Finnish National Board of Education regarding the development of a national music curriculum. Resonaari is also engaged in ongoing music research, including how to adapt music for people with special needs. In addition, Resonaari has influenced the creation of similar music programs in other parts of the world, and is part of a global movement to connect people with music.

More information available at: http://www.resonaari.fi/


The Ruskis Center is a state-operated, publicly funded special education school for children with the most severe disabilities. The intensive level of support provided at this school includes very small classrooms, 1:1 instruction, and various related services. Additional resources include augmentative and alternative communication devices, wheelchairs and related equipment, a sensory gym, a state-of-the-art swimming pool for instructional aquatics, residential accommodations for students living away from home, and a trial apartment-living program for students transitioning to independent living. Students participate in non-academic activities such as music, cooking, and woodworking with specially designed equipment to meet their physical and developmental needs. Ruskis is well-known throughout Finland, and services students from all over the country. The staff is committed to the well-being of its students, and assists parents through the process of obtaining the supports and services that they require from the government.

More information available at: http://www.ruskis.fi/in-english.html


The Keskupuisto Vocational School is exclusive to students with special needs, whose issues range from attention to autism to severe psychiatric disorders. Keskupuisto offers a wide array of vocational programs including mechanics, photography, audio visual, technical design, music, dance, and cooking. Classrooms are small and structured, one-to-one support is available where necessary, and students are expected to complete a significant amount of on-the-job training in order to apply their in-classroom learning to real-life settings. The school offers both certificate and non-certificate programs, as well as unique opportunities for immigrant students. The facilities are immaculately clean and beautifully designed, and located just a few steps away from Helsinki’s Central Park. I toured some of the classrooms, and spoke with students and staff, and was impressed by the students' work.

More information available at: http://www.keskuspuisto.fi/en.php