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September 2020 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

Matt Cohen's thoughts on the impact of remote learning and Covid-19 on students with disabilities as school returns 

spec ed collage The federal and state government have given conflicting messages as to the rights of kids with IEPs and 504 plans during the pandemic and the accompanying remote learning programs. On the one hand, the Department of Education and the Illinois State Board of Education have made clear that IEPs and 504 plans remain in effect and that schools must provide programming to meet the needs of these students. 

On the other hand, both the Department of Education and ISBE have said that schools are allowed to implement the plans with flexibility, providing for the programs and services in ways that may not look like they did in school. This unspecified flexibility opens a loophole a Mac truck could drive through. Sadly, much of the uncertainty will likely need to be resolved through mediation, state complaints and due process hearings and litigation.
In the meantime, ISBE has been clear, as recently as a few weeks ago, that Districts' remote learning plans must take into account the ability of the student to physically and cognitively engage with and benefit from the proposed remote learning. If a parent feels that the remote learning plan is inadequate, they have a right to ask the school staff for more help and ways to support the student and the family. If those requests are unheeded or the response is insufficient, parents have the right to request an IEP meeting. If that also doesn't result in an effective program, the parents retain the right to request mediation or a due process hearing or file a state complaint.
We strongly encourage parents, if possible, to actively keep data on how their student is performing, including both on weekly work, on IEP goals and objectives and on their overall functioning. We also suggest that parents log the amount of time they have to spend supporting the student and any difficulties they encounter, as well as how much time the school staff are spending in live interaction with the child. This information is important in helping the parent and the school staff determine 1) if the student needs more support right now, 2) at what level the child is functioning when regular school begins, 3) as well as providing information relevant to determining if there is a basis for compensatory education.
I strongly encourage families to seek more help from their district if their child is struggling. Requests should be made respectfully and with understanding of the difficult circumstances that schools and teachers face. At the same time, backed by the data I described above, the parents
should seek more help when things are not working and realize that they still have the same rights parents and children had before.
Matt Cohen and Associates upcoming webinars

To deal with the huge disruption to our education system, which has severely impacted special ed students, our firm is offering free webinars to help parents and others navigate the new terrain of remote learning and other issues critical to children and individuals with disabilities. 

FAPE During the School Shut Down, Matt Cohen, Sept. 29  
This webinar will discuss your child's right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) during and after the school shutdown, what you can do to improve services during the shutdown and how to prepare for the return to school and possible right to compensatory education to make up for the lost time. 

Parent Ask the Lawyer, Matt Cohen, Sept. 30 
We are offering the "Parent Ask the Lawyer" sessions every other Wednesday at 4 p.m. Matt Cohen will be answering questions in an open forum for parents to talk about issues related to special education.

After registering in advance, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinars. Please refer to our website and our Facebook page for more information. 

Welcome to Verity Sandell 

We are proud to announce that Verity Sandell has joined the firm as a staff attorney. Verity comes to us from the Moran Center for Youth Advocacy in Evanston where she worked as the senior special education attorney. Prior to that, she worked as a special education attorney at Legal Aid Chicago.  

Verity also has a Master's Degree in education and worked as a teacher for several years. Verity is a great addition to the firm. For more information about her background, read her biography.  

MCA unveils new firm website

Since the start of Covid and the shutdown of schools, our firm has had a huge demand for information about what parents can do. We have responded with new webinars, written materials, power points, Ask the Lawyer sessions and other new programs. 

In order to make all of that more accessible, we have developed a new website. The new site has information about the firm, our practice areas, access to prior and upcoming presentations, power points and webinars, and even information about how to contact your legislators in order to advocate for civil rights. We hope it provides you with some of the resources you need during these challenging times. VISIT OUR WEBSITE...

Is a student discipline crisis in the making?

Students are heading back to schools virtually and in person under a new set of rules and efforts to hold students accountable for following those rules. But many parents and advocates worry that students of color and those with disabilities will bear the brunt of disciplinary actions. 
Advocates are concerned that students of color who act out and violate the new rules will be labeled as "defiant" while white students will be perceived as in need of social and emotional support. The concern is a valid one since discipline was meted out disproportionately for Black, Latinix and special ed students before the pandemic.  READ MORE...

DeVos ignores coronavirus reality

Several cities and states began seeing infection rate spike after President Trump urged them to reopen against the advice of scientists who, at the time, warned the coronavirus was not under control in the country.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos jumped on the bandwagon and ordered schools to reopen in person "or else." Of course, the "or else" was a cutoff of federal school funding which neither she or the president can do. READ MORE...

Courts order DOE to halt rule sending CARES Act funding to private schools

Advocates and legal scholars say the law is clear. Federal CARES Act funding is intended for low-income public school students. But that hasn't stopped U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos from trying to direct some of the money to private and parochial schools.
In a matter of days, two federal judges sided with several states who appealed the DeVos rule. The judges said DeVos' approach flouted the clear language in the March coronavirus relief package. "An executive agency like the Department has no authority to rewrite Congress's plain and unambiguous commands under the guise of interpretation," wrote one of the justices. READ MORE...

Big win for children with disabilities

A federal judge has ruled that a lawsuit against the state of Oregon, alleging the state failed to take action against school districts that systematically shortened the school day of children with disabilities, may proceed.
The ruling affirms that, while school districts implement federal special education law, it is the state's duty to "monitor, investigate, and enforce" it to ensure the education rights of children with disabilities are protected. The case was filed by Oregon disability rights advocates the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) of which Matt Cohen is a board member. READ MORE...

Judge halts use of ACT/SAT in University of California system

The University of California must immediately stop using ACT and SAT test scores in its admission and scholarship decisions thanks to a ruling brought by advocates challenging the tests' barriers for special ed students.
"The SAT and ACT are dead and gone as far as the UC system is concerned," said one of the lawyers who helped file the lawsuit. What's more, he says, this could be the death knell for the biased and unfair assessments across the country. READ MORE...

Recent Firm Successes


  • Secured reversal of district recommendation to move elementary student from primarily inclusive program to self-contained program in another school further away and achieved additional support for student in existing placement. "Thanks so much for everything!" wrote the parent. 
  • Secured continued placement in inclusive classroom setting and appropriate evaluations for 11-year-old girl with hearing impairment where school district was attempting to move her to a segregated self-contained classroom. 
  • Secured continued placement at home school for 11-year-old boy with autism where school district was attempting to move him to separate therapeutic day school.
  • Supported family to successfully advocate for a change in placement to a therapeutic day school for a young man with complex social, language, and learning needs.
  • Supported family to secure and support transition to an appropriate therapeutic day school for a young, gifted boy with emotional regulation challenges.
  • Secured two years of placement at school district expense in specialized program for children with learning disabilities in reading, as well as ongoing placement at the parents' preferred public school for half the student's day.
  • Supported family to successfully advocate for a change in placement to a therapeutic day school. 
Upcoming presentations

Matt Cohen
Writing Appropriate IEPs and 504 Plans
Learning Disability Association of Illinois
Oct. 3, 8:30 - 10:30 a.m.

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Office news and updates

Matt Cohen is once again a contributing author for the K and W Guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Disabilities, published by Penguin Random House. His article, "10 Things College Students with Disabilities Need to Know About their Rights," will appear in the 15th edition of the guide.

Matt Cohen & Associates has been selected the Best Local Business for the 2020 Best of Chicago Awards. The award recognizes the firm's commitment to community service.

Matt Cohen again has been selected by his peers as a 2021 Illinois Super Lawyer, a distinction he has held since 2007. Matt also has been selected as an Illinois Leading Lawyer for 2020The distinction of being a Leading Lawyer has been earned by fewer than 5 percent of all lawyers licensed to practice law in Illinois.

Brochures Available 
We offer several different brochures related 
to the following topics: 
  • Introduction to College Accommodations
  • 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.   

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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, including advocacy for accommodations in admissions and licensing tests and in colleges and graduate schools 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 and to view this email in your browser, 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

    866-787-9270 or 



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