Ahead of the Curve
A2Z Educational Advocates represents disabled children under-served by their school districts.
By Renee Flannery
Daily Journal Staff Writer
PACIFIC PALISADES — Jane DuBovy spent 25 years practicing bankruptcy law before making a switch to educational advocacy.
“Always one step ahead of the curve,” DuBovy said, characterizing her irregular career moves. She received her master’s degree in clinical psychology from Pepperdine University before earning her law degree from the school in 1981.
She began her law career by typing out a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing for a family member. She said it was an awkward beginning but after that first filing, she went on to specialize in Chapter 7, 11 and 13 bankruptcy. At the start, “I still had to hire law clerks from Pepperdine because I didn’t know what … I was doing,” she said.
She successfully ran her practice for 20 years when in 1997, DuBovy learned her son was diagnosed with autism.
“When I got the diagnosis of my son … it was so scary to me,” DuBovy said.
While working on her master’s degree, DuBovy worked as an applied behavior analysis intern at Camarillo State Hospital, observing patients with autism. The thought of her son living in such circumstances lead her to find the Intervention Program at UCLA. It’s a program that provides educational and therapeutic services for children with special needs at an early age.
Her son thrived and she saw improvements. However, she said she found herself fighting school districts to make sure her son received a good education.
That’s when she discovered the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The education law was enacted in 1975 by Congress to ensure children with disabilities receive the same educational opportunities as their peers.
DuBovy said advocating for her son, helping other students with special needs and advancing education laws were the turning points in her law career.
She began A2Z in 2000, three years after her son’s diagnosis, but maintained her bankruptcy practice.
Without much experience in educational advocacy, DuBovy hired Carrie Watts in 2002, another Pepperdine University graduate.
In 2004, both bankruptcy and IDEA laws underwent significant changes and DuBovy said she “could not go both directions so gave up the bankruptcy practice and focused entirely on the IDEA.” That same year, she brought on attorney Mandy L. Favaloro.
DuBovy credits the duo for having helped build the firm into A2Z Educational Advocates.
The firm collectively handles “about 80 different clients in various stages,” DuBovy said. “We’re there at the beginning. We’re there helping get assessments. We have some parents that need support at the IEP [Individualized Education Plan] meetings. We’re there for some cases when we file for due process.”
According to DuBovy, an Individualized Education Plan is developed when representatives of a child and a school district decide together what the child needs during the upcoming school year. She said it’s critical and sometimes families walk away under-served.
“Quite honestly, probably about 80 percent of the people that could be getting help for their kids don’t even know they can because they don’t speak English or they’re a single parent and they’re overwhelmed and bullied,” DuBovy said.
She relayed a story of a child for whom she has had to file seven due process complaints. “The school district settles. They violate it, settle, violate,” DuBovy said.
Approximately 95 percent of A2Z’s cases resolve at mediation, and if they do not, the firm files for a due process hearing, she said. “We could have one or two of those. If we don’t win, we file a federal appeal,” DuBovy said.
Patrick Balucan, assistant general counsel to the Los Angeles Unified School District, said that while most cases are handled and resolved at the administration level he does see DuBovy about three times a year.
“What I like about her is we can talk about where we disagree about things,” Balucan said. “She can listen to my side and I can listen to hers. We can resolve some of those differences in a reasonable manner and it doesn’t hamper our ability to resolve things.”
DuBovy said all A2Z’s cases involve representing clients against school districts. “We fight districts from Santa Barbara, down to San Clemente, out east to Redlands, and out towards Ventura,” she said.
Collaborating with parents is what DuBovy describes as her primary concern.
“My part is to tell the parents, ‘Ask. Ask for assessments … You have timelines, you’ve got systems you can use,” DuBovy said.
Her goal is to educate. She does all of the firm’s intakes and said she is adaptable and works with the parents to provide what they need. That includes step-by-step instructions.
“I don’t want them to be frightened of the school or district or what they’re told,” DuBovy said. “You’re the voice for your child. It’s your job to … understand the limits of what the law will allow.” The practice is primarily funded by fees that school districts reimburse to parents at mediation. DuBovy said she does not charge her clients the highest rate but uses the money they do pay to keep the office open.
She said the field of educational advocacy is one people dive into because of passion and not because it’s lucrative.
“I’ve been practicing 35 years. I love Mondays. I love being in my office. I love the challenges. … But nothing gets me hotter than somebody screwing with one of my kids,” she said.
Balucan has also observed A2Z’s passionate advocacy and applauds the balance they keep.
DuBovy “can be very tough and aggressive,” he said. “She’s also reasonable. In times when we don’t come to a resolution or if we can’t resolve, we will agree to disagree on issues.”
A2Z’s work is supplemented by other special education professionals who advise plans for parents and students. DuBovy said she utilizes various experts but until recently, never had opportunity to socialize with them.
She developed the Women’s Organization for Special Ed Professionals six years ago and the organization meets biannually.
At the conferences, “we do nothing but drink tea or sometimes wine twice a year and meet each other,” DuBovy said. “I just wanted it to meet people.”
She attributes the firm’s growing network to the organization. “I’ve met a lot of great people — people whose specialties I didn’t know. They bring their friends, they bring other new people into the business and I’m always mentoring new people into the business,” DuBovy said.
The firm’s goal for the future is to look for new and innovative ways to serve their clients. “A2Z is part of a legacy of trying to help people and empowering the autism population,” DuBovy said.