Special Education 101 for Attorneys

Level: Intermediate
Runtime: 91 minutes
Recorded Date: June 19, 2018
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  • Overview
  • Eligibility
  • Service Delivery
  • School Discipline
  • Q & A
Runtime: 1 hour and 31 minutes
Recorded: June 19, 2018


This panel is geared towards attorneys who have little to no experience in this area of law, but are interested in special education advocacy as part of their practice, or for pro bono opportunities.

Special education law is a growing sub-specialty of education law field due to the increase in childhood disabilities. This program will provide an overview of the applicable federal statutory laws that ensure children with disabilities receive the same education as their non-disabled peers.

This program was recorded on June 19th, 2018.

Provided By

American Bar Association


Rochanda Hiligh-Thomas

Executive Director
Advocates for Justice and Education, Inc.

Rochanda Hiligh-Thomas joined AJE in 2004. She has over 21 years of direct legal experience working in the District of Columbia’s legal services community and has diverse experience in the non-profit sector. As Executive Director, She currently leads the overall strategic operations, program development and partner development for AJE. As the former Director of Legal Services and Advocacy and Senior Staff Attorney at AJE, Ms. Hiligh-Thomas developed a robust legal program that provides legal assistance to DC families with special education and school discipline matters. She represented hundreds of parents and students in school discipline, special education and other education matters. In addition, she provided extensive training to parents, youth, school staff and other professionals in those same areas.

Prior to joining AJE, Ms. Hiligh-Thomas was the Assistant Director for Legal Operations at the Neighborhood Legal Services Program (NLSP). She began her career at NLSP as a Covington & Burling Howard C. Westwood Fellow where spent over seven years providing free legal services to low-income D.C. residents in the areas of public entitlement, education, employment, social security benefits, housing, family, and consumer law, at the administrative, trial court and appellate levels.

Ms. Hiligh-Thomas is a native Washingtonian, the proud mother of four children, one of whom has a disability, and is active in her local community. She is mayorally appointed parent member of the State Advisory Panel for Special Education and currently serves as co-chair of the D.C. Consortium of Legal Services Providers.

Ms. Hiligh-Thomas obtained her Bachelor’s Degree with honors from Tuskegee University and received her law degree with honors from the District of Columbia School of Law. In 2017 she received the prestigious Jerrold Scoutt Prize from the DC Bar Foundation and the Advocate for Justice Award from the University of The District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law.

Jane R. Wettach

Clinical Professor of Law
Duke Law School

Jane Wettach is a clinical professor, directs the Children’s Law Clinic, and teaches Education Law at Duke Law School. She is a frequent speaker on special education law, the “school-to-prison pipeline,” and other matters related to educational rights of children. She was honored by the North Carolina Justice Center in 2010 with its “Defender of Justice Award” in the area of litigation.

Professor Wettach joined the Duke Law faculty in 1994 after practicing poverty law for 13 years with legal aid offices in Raleigh and Winston-Salem, N.C., developing particular expertise in the law of government benefits. She has argued cases in the U.S. Supreme Court and the North Carolina Supreme Court, as well as other appellate courts. She was lead counsel in the appellate aspects of King v. Beaufort County Board of Education, which established the right of students in North Carolina to attend alternative school during a suspension in most cases. Prior to establishing the Children’s Law Clinic in 2002, she served as supervising attorney in Duke’s AIDS Legal Project and as an instructor in the Legal Analysis, Research and Writing Program.

Professor Wettach is the author of A Parents’ Guide to Special Education in North Carolina, School Vouchers in North Carolina, The First Three Years, and a contributing author of Special Education Advocacy and Guide to Student Advocacy in North Carolina.

Professor Wettach received her B.A. in journalism in 1976 and her J.D. with honors in 1981. She earned both degrees at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Amanda O'Neal

Tollner Law Offices

Amanda graduated Magna Cum Laude from Arizona State University in 2011, earning her Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science with a minor in Psychology. She received her Juris Doctor from Whittier Law School in 2014 and obtained a certificate in Children’s Rights Law.

While at Whittier Law School, Amanda was a fellow in the Center for Children’s Rights Fellowship program. She received the Center for Children’s Rights Outstanding Fellow Award. She also participated in Whittier’s pro bono Special Education Legal Clinic. Amanda also served as Solicitations Editor for the Whittier Journal for Child and Family Advocacy.

Amanda’s passion for Special Education Law stems from her personal experience. She has two siblings with special needs who have had to navigate the special education system.

Beginning shortly after high school and while in college, Amanda worked as a habilitation provider for children with disabilities. Through that experience, she learned the struggles her siblings faced were all too common and quite pervasive. This realization became the touchstone for her decision to pursue a career as a Special Education and Disability Rights attorney.

Amanda is admitted to practice law in California and Arizona.

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