What do you do when you discover your child has special needs? You’re shell-shocked, you’re frightened, and you’re wondering how this could have happened to you. Where do you turn? How do you begin the process of reorienting your life and learning about things you never imagined you’d have to know? You’re frustrated and overwhelmed. This isn’t the life you imagined, this isn’t the child you imagined. You feel isolated and unsure. How do you move forward? How do you secure the educational and other support services necessary to enable your child to progress and succeed? Ask A2Z Educational Advocates. Each of us has confronted these questions with our own children, as well as with our clients. THIS IS WHO WE ARE; let us answer your questions.
N Jane DuBovy, M.A., J.D. Attorney at Law, Certified Mediator
When I was earning my Master’s Degree in Psychology at Pepperdine University I worked in a reading research program utilizing the then new therapy called Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). I was working with the young adult population diagnosed with autism who were housed at Camarillo State Hospital in California. I say “housed” because back then it was all that was offered as support and services for the severely impacted individual diagnosed with autism. The ABA was important research as it is the “go to” service for helping address behavior issues for children on the autism spectrum but environment was frightening. It was everything horrible you could imagine about mental institutions in the 1970’s.
Moving forward 20 years later when my son was diagnosed with Autism at age 3 I was frightened. Immediately I traveled back in time to that horrible place and was determined that my child would never end up there. I didn’t know what to do or where to turn. I was lucky. Very quickly I plugged into a supportive network that strengthened my resolve to give my child the best opportunities available. My team developed a therapeutic approach that has resulted in my child being mainstreamed in the public school system. It wasn’t easy. There were many obstacles placed before me, including the passage of time. I made full use of the expertise of my advocates.
Along the way advocating for my son meant suing our local elementary school for services. We won but we didn’t make a lot of friends in the process. Next we had to go to court for important communication services from our Regional Center. We won that case too, in fact that was the first time that my son testified on his own behalf, he was learning to self-advocate. The last legal battle on his behalf was against our local and very popular boy scout troop that discriminated against my son by not allowing him to participate in all the regular activities strictly due to his diagnosis. I can’t discuss the outcome of that action based on a confidential settlement agreement but that troop has since initiated policies that are more sensitive to the needs of boys with disabilities.
It became abundantly clear what I was destined to do with all my education and experiences so after practicing law for over 20 years, specializing in bankruptcy, I plunged into the area of representing other parents faced with similar obstacles when advocating for their own children. I understand the fear, confusion, and hopelessness of these parents. What they’re being told by professionals and educators is depressing. My job is to educate and empower parents to not settle for the limitations imposed by others on their children. My job is now helping parents become active participants and advocates for the future of their children
By the way, my son is now 21 years old, holds a job, drives a car and even has a girlfriend. We’ve all survived this process. I’d like to help you do the same.
Carolina D. Watts (“Carrie”), J.D., Education & Civil Rights Advocate
Carrie Watts is an experienced and passionate advocate for students with disabilities, having first discovered her passion for advocacy 10 years ago while working in the Pepperdine Special Education Advocacy Clinic. Carrie has Bachelor’s Degrees in both English and Speech Communications from the University of Georgia, a Juris Doctor from Pepperdine University School of Law, and a Certificate in Dispute Resolution from the Strauss Institute of Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine.
Carrie has a background in work that focused on children’s rights, civil rights and community services. While working for the Office of the Child Advocate for the State of Georgia, she conducted extensive oversight investigations of individual and systemic cases within DFCS, researched systemic issues in the foster care system, and participated in a statewide Child Welfare Task Force on policy and legislative issues. Her article on the issue of liability for social services agencies, entitled “‘Indifferent [Towards] Indifference’: Post-DeShaney Accountability for Social Services Agencies When a Child is Injured or Killed Under Their Protective Watch,” was published in the Pepperdine Law Review in 2003. These experiences strongly influenced her decision to devote her career to fighting for the rights of children. Her background also includes writing and publishing, political campaign management and community organizing, victim services and victim advocacy, volunteer management, and speech writing and public speaking, and she brings all of these experiences into her work within special education advocacy in individual cases and activism geared towards empowering parents and other advocates to have a voice in positive change for the civil rights of children.
At A2Z Educational Advocates, she advocates for parents and students throughout southern California. She has experience working with the team of attorneys and advocates at A2Z in all aspects of special education cases, from IEP meetings to Due Process hearings. She has also been actively involved in research and writing for A2Z’s cases at the Federal District Court and 9th Circuit levels. Carrie is a dedicated advocate for her clients, and has a wide reputation of zealous and passionate advocacy. She is also committed to training advocates and providing information and resources to parents regarding the special education process in order to expand access to quality special education advocacy and to empower parents to become more effective advocates for their children. She is a frequent speaker and presenter on a variety of topics at national and local events and conferences. In recent years, her presentations have focused primarily on (1) skills-based advocacy training and (2) meaningful parental participation in the IEP process. She has also supervises students from COPAA’s SEAT program for their mandatory practicum hours and provides training and mentoring to new advocates. Additionally, she believes strongly in the importance of student self-advocacy, and was recently involved in the development of the inaugural Student Rights Initiative (SRI) at the annual COPAA Conference. The SRI program provides training to students aged 14 to 21 in order to empower them to become self-advocates.
Carrie has been an active member of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) for a number of years. She served as the co-chair of the Membership Committee beginning in 2009. She joined the Board of Directors in 2011 and the Executive Committee in 2012. She served as Secretary, Vice Chair and Chair of the Board. She is currently co-chair of the Membership Committee and of the Development Committee and is an active member of other committees including Diversity, Publications, Conference, Advocates, Training, Awards and Nominations.
Mandy Favaloro, J.D., Attorney at Law
Mandy Favaloro is an experienced attorney with A2Z Educational Advocates. Ms. Favaloro is the Co-Chair of COPAA’s Training and Conference Committee and is a member of COPAA’s Board of Directors. Ms. Favaloro is admitted to practice law in the State of California, the United States District Court for the Central District of California, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. She also is an instructor for the COPAA Special Education Advocacy Training (SEAT) program, the only nationally developed and recognized year-long course that provides participants with training to become a special education advocate.
Mandy graduated magna cum laude from the University of Redlands with a B.A. in Government with honors. She was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and numerous local and national community service organizations. During college, Mandy worked for the local school district providing reading intervention strategies to at-risk students. She graduated from Pepperdine University School of Law in 2005 with a Juris Doctor degree. While in law school she participated in the Special Education Advocacy Clinic.
Mandy joined A2Z Educational Advocates in 2004 where she has advocated for parents of students with disabilities at all stages of the process including IEP meetings, mediations, due process hearings and in federal court proceedings. Mandy prepared and delivered oral arguments in the Ninth Circuit of Appeals in a case involving a school district’s denial of a student’s access to school, and obtained a favorable opinion from the Ninth Circuit on the precedent setting issue of mootness of an IDEA claim upon the death of a student, and the court overturned the District Court’s aware of attorneys’ fees to the school district on that basis.
Mandy has presented at the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) annual conferences on a variety of special education topics, including Independent Educational Evaluations, Methodology Disputes, Negotiation and Settlement Advocacy, Parent Participation in IEPs, and Advocacy Strategies. She has been a presenter for the Advocacy Institute’s Advocate Academy, a guest lecturer at Pepperdine University School of Law, as well as at training events for Disability Rights California, and other organizations. She has taught a two day preconference training specifically for special education advocates that focuses on skills-based training related to the IEP process. Mandy is an active member of COPAA and has been involved in many of COPAA’s committees and activities. She has served on COPAA’s Training Committee, Conference Committee, Awards Committee and Nominations Committee. She current serves as the Co-Chair of the Training Committee and as the Co-Chair of the Conference Committee. She was elected to the COPAA Board of Directors in 2012.
As an an instructor for COPAA’s Special Education Advocate Training (SEAT) program, Mandy teaches special education advocates around the country in an online intensive education and training course. Mandy was involved in the implementation of SEAT as an web-based program and revision of the curriculum and instructional materials for that format, and she has been an instructor for SEAT since that time (2013) – she is now teaching her fourth cohort of students. Additionally, Mandy was involved in developing and teaching the inaugural Student Rights Initiative (SRI) symposium at COPAA’s annual conference in 2016.
Jessica Brown-Clark, SEAT Trained Advocate
Jessica Brown-Clark has worked with A2Z Educational Advocates as an advocate and paralegal for over 2 years. Jessica studied psychology and non-profit management at Pepperdine University and graduated in 2013. She is a member of the Council of Parents Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) and recently completed its Special Education Advocacy Training (SEAT) program. The SEAT program is the gold standard for advocate training nationwide, providing the equivalent of college level coursework that is rigorous and intensive and that provides both practical skills training as well as substantive information needed to be a successful special education advocate. In addition to SEAT, Jessica has received continuing education through COPAA preconference training in topics such as Section 504 and the ADA and Special Education Assessments. Jessica assists new clients in the intake process and works with the A2Z team to connect clients to independent evaluators, experts, and service providers. She applies her knowledge of the IEP process and special education procedural safeguards to help ensure that clients have access to Independent Educational Evaluations (IEEs) at district expense and to meaningful participation in the IEP process. She also advocates for clients at IEP meetings, prepares and files Compliance Complaints with the California Department of Education on behalf of clients, and works with the A2Z team on cases at all stages of the process, including preparation for due process hearings. Jessica is also a dedicated community activist who volunteers her time with nonprofit organizations in the Los Angeles area.