In This Issue
IEP Checkup!
School is in session - Time for an IEP Checkup!  Is your child's IEP giving them all they need? Does it have the right goals, objectives and evaluation procedures?  Do the services and accommodations provide all they are entitled to?  If you want an IEP Checkup, Click HERE

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MCA updated logo

May 2019 E-Newsletter 


This E-newsletter is devoted to sharing information about special education, disability rights, mental health and human services law, policy and research that is of importance to people with disabilities, their families, and the professionals that work with them.

Information includes political issues, important research, legal developments, and information based on our experiences that we hope will help you personally in your individual and professional efforts.   It also provides updates and news about our firm and its activities.  We hope you find it helpful and welcome your comments and suggestions.  
                                                                   -Matt Cohen

Court ruling sides with parents, bars hindsight review for determining IDEA eligibility and recognizes that getting good grades is not a basis for denying eligibility when the child's disability impacts other areas of school functioning

A ruling by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals could set an important precedent for parents challenging school district denials of special education services. The Court ruled that when determining eligibility for services, only information available to the IEP team at the time of the decision should be considered on review--so no "Monday morning quarterbacking" allowed.  The Court also held that determining whether special education is needed does not include considering whether special education could maximize a student's potential. It also rightly concluded that it is not a parent's responsibility to determine what special education would look like, stating "a party urging eligibility need not unilaterally identify what the IEP will entail."
Although the child in question earned all A's and B's in his classes, the Court found that he was still entitled to special education, stating "while grades are a consideration in determining whether special education services are necessary, they may not be the exclusive one." Other factors considered in determining that the child was eligible for special education included failure of benchmark tests, struggles with attention to task due to avoidance behaviors, and difficulty producing written work. The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates filed an amicus brief in the case. Matt Cohen is on the organization's board. READ MORE
Important revisions to Truancy provisions in Illinois School Code

Important revisions to the truancy law in the Illinois School Code took effect in January. The "valid cause" for a child's absence from school was updated to include "circumstances which cause reasonable concern to the parent for the mental, emotional, or physical health or safety of the student." And, if a parent has such reasonable concerns, they should report them to the school district in writing. If there is valid cause for the absence, the child cannot be considered truant and the school district cannot punish the student for truancy. This new language is very important for families that decide they can't send their child to school because they are in crisis due to negative experiences AT SCHOOL. READ MORE 
Evanston schools failing students with disabilities, parents, activists say

The Daily Northwestern interviewed Matt Cohen extensively for this article on the disturbing problems plaguing special ed students and parents in Evanston schools. Matt, who has represented many parents in Evanston's elementary and high schools, gives the district an overall grade of C - for its special education services (though he feels there are many excellent staff in the District). He says parents are often excluded from important conversations about their children and not given the respect they deserve. This is especially true for African-American students who face additional challenges because of discrimination against them. And, like other districts, Evanston tries to save money by pushing for more "inclusive" classrooms without providing adequate support for the students and staff in those classrooms.  READ MORE

Special education bills go to Illinois governor's desk

Three bills addressing important issues for special education students passed the Illinois legislature and are awaiting signature by Gov. J. B. Pritzker. Thanks to all the advocates, parents and educators who called their elected officials and helped pass these important bills.
HB 3302 extends the deadline for parents to file complaints for compensatory services as a result of the Illinois State Board of Education's (ISBE) public inquiry, which found that Chicago Public Schools (CPS) denied and delayed services in violation of federal law.
HB 3586 provides more transparency and parental notification about special ed policies, requires CPS to provide its procedure manual in English and Spanish and includes safeguards for kids being referred for Response to Intervention services.
HB 2830 makes it illegal for an employer to fire a parent for attending their child's school conference, academic or behavioral-related meeting.

A ttn: Parents of students in Therapeutic Day Schools (TDS)

Do you provide breakfast or lunch for your student? Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is supposed to provide free meals to all its students, but students in TDSs may not be getting this service. The Legal Council for Health Justice wants to help parents who provide breakfast and lunch to their students in these schools. Call Connor at the Council, 312-605-1983 or email

Battle over reading: parents push curriculum changes for students with dyslexia

Learning to read is one of the most critical--and exciting--skills young children acquire in school. But for children with dyslexia, learning to read can be fraught with stress and anxiety, especially if the curriculum fails to address the special needs of dyslexic students. Find out what some parents are doing to push their district to address this issue. READ MORE

How are Black girls viewed by adults?

The Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality answers that question in a new study and the answers are disturbing. The researchers surveyed 325 adults from different racial and educational backgrounds across the country. The survey found black girls are perceived as needing less nurturing, protection, support and comfort and are viewed as more independent, older and more knowledgeable about sex. The study suggests, not surprisingly, that these perceptions contribute to harsher punishment in school and fewer mentoring and leadership opportunities. READ MORE

New "Conscience Rule" could mean trouble for individuals with disabilities

A new rule  being implemented by the U.S. Department of Health and    Human Services allows medical staff and health care entities to refuse to provide, refer to or pay for services they object to, such as abortion, sterilization or assisted suicide. But the implications are much broader than that and advocates worry it could hinder the ability of people with disabilities to get the services they need.  READ MORE

Mental Health Town Hall, June 13

Join the Collaborative for Community Wellness and Mental Health Movement in making clear to the Mental Health Taskforce of the Chicago City Council that we need public mental health clinic access for all Chicagoans. Thursday, June 13, 6 - 8 p.m., Malcom X College, 1900 W. Jackson Blvd. Register here .

In the news...

Chalkbeat reports on Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot's new school board members, none of which, unfortunately, have any special education expertise or experience. 

The Sun-Times reports CPS is laying of some 700 staff personnel. This raises serious concerns because CPS schools already are critically understaffed especially in special education and raises questions about whether CPS is serious about filling the claimed gaps in staff. 

The Washington Post reports that President Trump is proposing to cut $8.5 billion, or 12 percent, of the Education Department's budget, at the same time he's proposing to spend $5 billion helping children attend private schools. Fortunately, the proposed budget has little chance of passing. 

Recent successes at the firm

  • Secured two years placement and reimbursement of transportation at school for kids with LD after team acknowledged local school could not meet student's needs and the district failed to follow through on a promise to offer a different program.
  • Secured placement of student with severe violent behavior at home to residential treatment program selected by parent after long effort by school district to place elsewhere. Also successfully blocked hospital discharge and negotiated with DCFS for non-finding of abandonment resulting from lockout.
  • Secured placement in therapeutic school rather than inappropriate self-contained classroom for student with learning and emotional problems. 
  • Negotiated role of private Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) to support school's Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP).
  • Secured an appropriate reading program.
  • Secured a change in placement to an appropriate alternative school.

MCA updated logo 
Office News and Updates

We are pleased to welcome three new staff members to our team!

Deirdre Gruba-McCallister , our  new paralegal, writes:
"Hi, I'm Deirdre Gruba-McCallister, the new
paralegal at Matt Cohen and Associates. I have Asperger's Syndrome and sensory integration dysfunction. Growing up as someone both gifted and disabled, it was hard for my parents to get an appropriate education for me, because the school district often lumped students with disabilities together, regardless of the type or the severity of their disability. 
My parents had to band together with other parents to work on getting their children free, appropriate public education and related services. Several cases, including mine, had to go to due process. These experiences helped foster my commitment to ensuring the delivery of appropriate education and services to people with disabilities."
Dierdre worked for several years as a special education teacher and as a paralegal at another firm before joining Matt Cohen and Associates.
Donna Brown  i s currently a second-year law student at John Marshall Law School in Chicago and is a new law clerk with the firm. She has over 20 years of experience in education, including as a teacher, school counselor and director of counseling. Donna also worked at the Illinois State Board of Education where she audited schools and school districts on special education compliance. She holds master's degrees in curriculum development, counseling and human services and school administration.
Most recently, Donna worked in private practice as a psychotherapist and education consultant. Her passion for advocating for children with is what brought her to Matt Cohen and Associates.
Rebecca Jacobs  just finished her first ye ar of law school at Loyola University Chicago. Rebecca graduated from the University of Michigan with degrees in Psychology and Sociology/Law Justice, and Social Change. Her interest in family and child law stems from internships with Trilogy Behavioral Healthcare and Court Appointed Special Advocates during her undergrad summers and her desire to be an advocate for those who are not able to speak up for themselves.
Rebecca's interest in special education law comes from her four years working with a student organization called Dance Marathon. Dance Marathon works with the Miracle Network Hospitals  to provide pediatric rehabilitation therapies and equipment to children with disabilities. Rebecca's work with families with children with disabilities through the Family Relations Committee completely changed her and motivated her to go to law school to do advocacy for children.

Matt Cohen
  has been selected as an "Illinois Super Lawyer for 2018," having previously been selected for the last 13 years.

Matt Cohen currently serves on the boards of the national Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), where he is a founding board member, and Our Place of New Trier Township, a community-based program for young adults with disabilities.  He also chairs the Illinois Attorney General's Advisory Committee on Special Education, having served in that capacity for over 25 years. 
Matt Cohen and Associates Upcoming Presentations 

Lehigh University Special Education Law Symposium
You Be the Judge: Dueling Attorneys, the Facts, and the Law
(morning session)
The Intersection of RTI and IDEA Child Find/Eligibility: Navigating the Slippery Slope (afternoon session) 
Monday June 24
Presented by Matt Cohen
Lehigh University
27 Memorial Drive West, Bethlehem, PA

For further information and to register, visit

If you are looking for further information or would like Matt to speak at your parent group, support group, organization, conference or convention or to do staff trainings, please contact: or call at 1-866-787-9270.
Brochures Available 
We offer several different brochures related 
to the following topics: 
  • IEPs and 504 Plans - Navigating the Maze
  • Tips for Obtaining Accommodations for the ACT, SAT and other Placement Exams
  • Obtaining an Independent Educational Evaluation
  • Tips for Obtaining Appropriate Services for Your Child With Autism
  • Classroom Observation
To request multiple copies for your clients, 
please call us at 866-787-9270.   

Matt Cohen is the founder of the Chicago law firm Matt Cohen & Associates LLC.  


The practice is concentrated in representation of children and families in special education and discipline disputes with public schools, disability rights advocacy and legal assistance to mental health and human services professionals and the organizations they work for. 

For more information about Matt Cohen and the staff, please visit our  website.
If you have any questions, please contact his assistant, Tami Kuipers at 866-787-9270  or 

book cover

   A Guide to Special Education Advocacy -
  What Parents, Clinicians and Advocates Need to Know
   written by Matt Cohen
   published in 2009


    $20 plus $4.95 shipping 

    to order, call Tami at





The material in this enews has been prepared by Matt Cohen & staff for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.  We assume no responsibility for the accuracy or timeliness of any information provided herein. Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel. This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. 


We would be pleased to communicate with you via email.  However, if you communicate with us through the Web site regarding a matter for which we do not already represent you, your communication may not be treated as privileged and confidential.  Do not send us confidential, proprietary or other sensitive information until you speak with one of our attorneys and receive authorization to send that information.  Matt Cohen is providing this enews, the information, listings, and links contained herein only as a convenience to you.