Meet our board

Julie Swanson – President

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Julie Swanson is a Connecticut special education advocate whose practice grew out of her efforts to help her son. As an advocate, she helps parents navigate the special education process, including attending IEP and Section 504 meetings. She speaks frequently on special education matters and has a long-standing history of service on special education-related state boards, task forces, and legislative  appointments to state councils.  She is the co-author of Your Special  Education Rights: What Your School District Isn’t Telling You and co-founder of YourSpecialEducatonRights.com, a video-based website devoted to helping parents understand their rights under the IDEA.

Gerri Fleming – Vice President

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Gerri Fleming began her career as a high school History teacher in  New York City. After moving to Connecticut and starting her family,  Gerri re-entered the workforce by opening up her advocacy practice. Gerri is a SEAT graduate, a  year-long pilot program in special education advocacy funded by the  USDOE awarded to the University of Southern California, University  Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, (USC, UCEDD)  in partnership with Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) to  develop a national advocacy training curriculum. SEAT provided  extensive classroom training in special education law and a practicum in  a special education law firm. Gerri lives in Greenwich with her  husband and son.

Meredith Braxton – Secretary

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Meredith C. Braxton has been practicing law for 28 years, with a primary  focus on special education for the last 16 years.  After spending time  in general and business litigation in “big law” in New York City and two  smaller Connecticut firms, Meredith started a solo practice and began  representing students and parents in their efforts to enforce their  civil rights by having their children identified, securing appropriate  services, and enforcing their rights to appropriate placements, whether  via PPT, negotiation, an administrative due process hearing, or appeal  to the federal courts.  Her office is in Greenwich.  Meredith also  recently launched a companion practice with her colleague Liz Hook  (Braxton Hook) to represent families in New York in special education  matters and individuals in both Connecticut and New York in employment  matters.

Andy Feinstein – Treasurer

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Andrew A. Feinstein has represented children with disabilities and  their families pursuing appropriate educational programs for more than  twenty years, first in Hartford with David C. Shaw, and since 2008, as a  solo practitioner in Mystic, Connecticut. He is co-chair of the  Government Relations Committee for the Council of Parent Attorneys and  Advocates (COPAA), the preeminent national special education advocacy organization and an adjunct professor of special education law at  Central Connecticut State University. Attorney Feinstein graduated from  Wesleyan University in 1972 and the New York University School of Law in  1975. He completed the Senior Manager in Government Program at the  Kennedy School, Harvard University, in 1983. He has served as a professional staff member of the House Committee on Armed Services and  Chief Counsel of the House Civil Service Subcommittee.

Michael Beloff - CFP®

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Financial Advisor at Stratos Wealth Management. In addition to earning  the Certified Financial Planner ™ certification, he is a Chartered  Special Needs Consultant (ChSNC®). Inspired by his son with Autism, Michael works with families to plan for the particular financial  challenges of caring for a dependent with special needs. Michael is a  noted speaker on the topic of special needs planning at both national and local venues including the National Autism Association, COPAA, the  Autism Society of America and the US Autism and Asperger Association. He has also appeared on CNN and in various publications including Financial Advisor magazine. Michael graduated from SUNY Albany with degrees in Finance and Math and from Columbia University School of Law.  Michael is a board member and Treasurer of Abilis and is a member of the  First Selectman’s Advisory Committee for People with Disabilities in  Greenwich. He lives in Cos Cob with his wife and son.

Kristin Berry

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Professional Non-Attorney Special Education Advocate who has been  assisting Connecticut families in securing appropriate educational  services for their children with disabilities since 2007. She combines  her advocacy experience with the education she gained from completing  Special Education Advocacy Training (SEAT). SEAT was a year-long course  funded by the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services  awarded to the University of Southern California, University Center for  Excellence in Developmental Disabilities in partnership with the Council  of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA). The training provided for  extensive classroom instruction by an attorney and an advocate and a  practicum in a special education law firm. Kristin completed her  practicum with Andrew Feinstein, Esq. of the Feinstein Education Law  Group. She also completed Wrightslaw’s Special Education Law &  Advocacy Training. As the parent of a child with disabilities, she also  understands the process from a personal perspective. Kristin received  her Bachelor’s of Science in Business Administration from Saint Michaels  College in 1993 and lives with her husband, two sons, a daughter and  two dogs in Fairfield, CT.

Heather Dierberger

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Proud mother of a three-year-old boy with a disability. She holds a  Master’s Degree in Education and an Early Childhood/Special  Education  teaching certification in the State of Connecticut. Heather is also a  member of the Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society of Education.  Recently, she received a State of Connecticut Official Citation as well  as an Empowerment Award in recognition of her hard work towards helping  to keep Camp Harkness open when drastic budget cuts threatened the state  park’s closure.  Heather brings a wealth of hands-on experience,  knowledge, and expertise in the education field along with navigating  the special education process for her son. Additionally, Heather is an  active member of the Connecticut Family Support Network serving as a  parent mentor supporting other families in the special needs community  as well as a board member for the Camp Harkness Advisory Committee.

Barbara Distinti

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Parent and educator in Connecticut.  She teaches drama to students of  all abilities at Easton Country Day School and Acting Up Theater Company.

John Flanders

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John began his involvement in special education  early in 1996 when his then three-year-old son had a profound hearing  loss as the result of contracting Pneumococcal meningitis. In 1997,  significantly as the result of his family’s experiences in the PPT  process he enrolled in the University of Connecticut School of Law.  Following Graduation, he spent two years as the Children’s Rights  Advocate for the A.G. Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of  Hearing in Washington DC. He has practiced in Connecticut representing  families with children with disabilities from 2002 until he was  appointed by CPAC in December 2015. John has served on many Commissions  and groups working on the rights of people with disabilities, including  notably the Connecticut Council on Developmental Disabilities and the  State Advisory Committee on Special Education, serving as a member of  the Executive Committee of both groups. He is currently a member of the  Cromwell Board of Education and Committee to Support People  with Disabilities. He formally served as a member of Cromwell’s Board of  Selectmen for four years, Board of Finance for five years and as First  Selectmen from 2009-11.


Jennifer Laviano

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Attorney in private practice in Connecticut who focuses on the  representation of children and adolescents under the Individuals with  Disabilities Education Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.  Her representation includes attendance at IEP team meetings and  mediation and zealous advocacy in litigation in due process hearings and  federal court. Attorney Laviano is a regular presenter, locally and  nationally, on the Civil Rights of students with disabilities, and is  the co-author of the popular book, Your Special Education Rights: What  Your School District Isn’t Telling You and co-founder of YourSpecialEducationRights.com, a video-based website devoted to helping parents understand their rights under the IDEA.

Missy Olive

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Missy first became interested in special education advocacy  when she observed her mom calling the TN Director of Special Education  to report that the local district did not have services for her, then  4-year-old brother, Mac. Within minutes of speaking to the  state director, the local director called to explain that “we actually  take 4 year olds” and “there must have been a misunderstanding”. Fast  forward 35 years, and Missy (Melissa Olive, Ph.D., BCBAD), is the  Executive Director of Applied Behavioral Strategies LLC, an agency she  started in 2010. Prior to entering private practice, Missy spent 9 years  conducting research and training special education teachers and  behavior analysts at the University of Texas at Austin and the  University of Nevada, Reno. Missy has published over 30 peer-reviewed  articles and book chapters focusing on assessment and treatment of  challenging behaviors, communication intervention, feeding disorders,  and ethical issues for behavior analysts. Missy is the Chair of the  Legislative Committee of CT ABA as well as one of the Board of Directors  of CT ABA.