Barbara Distinti is the parent of a child in special education in Connecticut. She is an enthusiastic advocate for families because she knows from personal experience how critical it is for ALL students to have appropriate services and supports. She is a member of the Council of Parent Advocates and Attorneys and currently participates in COPAA’s Special Advocacy Education Training program. Barbara teaches drama, debate and creative writing to students of all abilities at Easton Country Day School, Acting Up Theater Company and The New Paradigm Theatre Company. She is honored to be part of SEEK and dedicated to empowering parents and making the special education process easier and more effective for all families.
Heather Dierberger is a proud mother of a child in special education. She holds a Master’s Degree in Education and an Early Childhood/Special Ed teaching certification in the State of Connecticut. Heather is also a member of the Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society of Education. 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 on the board of directors for Camp Harkness Advisory Committee, the Director of Merchant Fundraising for Save the Kid and a parent mentor for the Connecticut Family Support Network supporting other families who have children with disabilities.
Jeffrey L. Forte, Esq. is the founding member of Forte Law Group LLC with offices located in Shelton and Rocky Hill, CT. Jeff is one of only a few attorneys in Connecticut that has obtained a Certificate in Special Education Advocacy from the Institute of Special Education Advocacy (ISEA) at William & Mary Law School in Williamsburg, Virginia. Jeff devotes his entire legal career to serving the Connecticut disability community, advocating and negotiating on behalf of his clients. Jeff successfully navigates through PPT meetings, negotiations, hearings, mediations and trials ranging from classroom to courtroom settings. Earlier in his legal career, Jeff practiced both civil and defense litigation before going in-house with a large legal organization where he routinely negotiated multimillion dollar agreements. Throughout his legal career, Jeff has always taken on cases to represent children, families and organizations that needed the help of a negotiation and litigation lawyer. Jeff now devotes 100% of his practice exclusively to representing families and children with disabilities. Jeff’s legal educational background including his legal internships while in law school contributed significantly to him honing the multifaceted nature of special education law, juvenile justice and child advocacy. Jeff graduated from American University, Washington College of Law where he placed first in his class for trial advocacy and first in his class for best appellate argument at the law school’s mock trial and moot court competitions. While in law school, Jeff also served as Dean’s Fellow for the both Civil & Criminal Mock Trial Programs and was selected to be one of eight student attorneys to serve within the law school’s Third Year Criminal Justice Clinic where he served as a criminal defense attorney for children involved within the juvenile justice system. Visit www.fortelawgroup.com for more information about Jeff.
Jessica de Perio Wittman serves as the Director of the Law Library and Associate Professor of Law at UConn Law School where she teaches Advanced Legal Research, Technology and Law Practice, and Special Education Law. Her research interests focus on assistive and adaptive technologies and its intersection with the law and libraries. Professor de Perio Wittman has held many leadership positions within the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) and continues to be a member of AALL, Law Librarians of New England (LLNE), Southern New England Law Libraries Association (SNELLA), and the Connecticut Bar Association. She is a frequent presenter on cybersecurity and teaching legal technology competencies to today’s law students, as well as other topics related to equity, diversity, and inclusion in law librarianship and legal education. She received her J.D. from Seattle University School of Law and her M.L.S. from the University at Buffalo.
Solandy Forte, PhD, LCSW, LBA, BCBA-D, is the Director of Consultation Services and Community Outreach at Milestones Behavioral Services. She is a doctoral level Board Certified Behavior Analyst licensed in Connecticut and Massachusetts and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Dr. Forte provides consultation services to the school programs at Milestones serving individuals with a diverse set of complex learning needs. In addition to providing direct consultation to children within the private school setting she also has provided consultation to multi-disciplinary teams within the public school setting where she assisted with program development initiatives to promote building capacity for educating children with autism and related neurodevelopmental disorders within the least restrictive educational setting. Dr. Forte has experience working with children and young adults with special needs in their homes, schools, and community settings. She is an adjunct professor for the Institute of Autism and Behavioral Studies at the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford, Connecticut and the Institute of Behavioral Studies at Endicott College in Beverly, Massachusetts.
Dr. Forte also has experience providing parent training, staff training, social skills training, and in-home behavior analytic services to children living in therapeutic foster homes with a wide range of developmental disabilities, mental health disorders, and autism, and related disorders. She is an active member of organizations advocating for the advancement of the behavior analytic profession. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Behavior Analyst Leadership Council (BALC) and has served on the Executive Council for the Connecticut Association for Behavior Analysts (CTABA). Dr. Forte has presented at regional and national conferences on topics related to staff training, behavioral assessment, navigating through cultural barriers, behavioral consultation, supervision, and ethics to name a few. She is an expert in the field who is committed to improving the quality of life of the individuals she serves.
Andy Feinstein has represented children with disabilities and their families pursuing appropriate educational programs for the past twenty-two years, first in Hartford with Attorney David C. Shaw, from 2008 to 2015, as a solo practitioner in Mystic, Connecticut, and, since July 1, 2015, as the owner of Feinstein Education Law Group, LLC. He is a founder, the treasurer and Legislative Committee chair of Special Education Equity for Kids in Connecticut (SEEK-CT). He serves on the Board and as co-chair of the Government Relations Committee for the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), the preeminent national special education advocacy organization. He has argued a number of cases on behalf of COPAA before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. He serves as an adjunct professor of special education at Central Connecticut State University, teaching both special education teachers and administrators. 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. Formerly, he chaired United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Hartford and served on the Board of Community Health Charities of Connecticut for many years. He was formerly the Treasure of Temple Emanu-El in Waterford, Connecticut, and teaches eighth grade Sunday school. Andy lives in Mystic with his wife Liz Bochain and their grandson Jacob.
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 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.
Stephanie Mitchell is an Independent College Consultant and owner of Grapevine College Consulting. Her specialty lies in aiding students with learning differences in finding appropriate post-secondary options. Stephanie holds a Bachelor’s in Art History from St. Olaf College and a Master’s in Italian Renaissance Art History from Syracuse University. After early experiences in general education, and working in other industries, she decided to return to her calling in education. She worked for 15 years as a decoding and 1-1 remediation teacher at Winston Preparatory School in New York and Connecticut. Notably, she was a proud member of the Leadership Team that started Winston’s Connecticut campus. In addition to teaching, she served as the Director of College Placement and Transition Planning at Winston for over 10 years. During her tenure, she successfully placed students in colleges, as well as comprehensive support, transition, and gap year programs. Equally important to her professional experience, Stephanie is the proud mother of two boys who have learning, hearing and attention deficits. She is passionate about applying her knowledge and personal experience to help other parents who are embarking on their journey through the special education process.
Helen Taylor earned her M.B.A. from Post University. She has worked at Eversource Energy for 15 years and volunteers in many organizations including in leadership roles. Helen is currently a Chair of the Employee Recreation Committee and member of the Multicultural Business Resource group and Energy Toastmasters.
Helen has made incredible strides to support Autism Speaks since 2006. She volunteers for the Western Connecticut Autism Speaks Walk (co-founder with Alan), organized two free Autism and Education forums, and is volunteer certified trainer for the State of Connecticut regional police department for autism safety and awareness class. She is an Autism Speaks Ambassador Volunteer and recently advocated with Congress representatives for the Autism Cares Act of 2019, which was signed into law in September.
Since 2008, Helen volunteers weekly as a Special Olympics coach for the Waterbury PAL. She is the CT FEAT board president and board member of Focus Center for Autism. She recently started and volunteers for The Social Chase program which provides social activities for late teens to adults with social challenges. She also just started a cable show about autism and special needs awarenesss, The Social Chase. She is currently a volunteer grant writer for Granville Academy of Waterbury. Helen collaborated with the Waterbury police chief to have Autism Registry events, including registration in the computer emergency database for vulnerable citizens for a positive community and police relations.
Helen volunteers to support her husband’s ACTJamsproductions.com business to bring Jazz and R&B quality affordable shows and the free Brass City Jazz Fest to Connecticut. She also volunteers her photography for non-profit organizations.
Michael Beloff, CFP, is 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.
John P. Regan has been practicing law for 29 years, with a focus on litigation, civil and criminal, and began representing children and their families in Juvenile and criminal court after opening his solo practice. As part of his practice, he served the State of Connecticut Office of Public Defender for many years as a Special Public Defender, seeing first hand the myriad problems his clients faced, including education. As the father of a child on the Autism Spectrum, John views his clients as kindred spirits, and uses his experience to ensure that the court process does not complicate their lives unnecessarily. A member of COPAA since 2008, John is also a supporter of ABILIS in Greenwich and Stamford..
Jennifer Laviano is an 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.
John Flanders 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.
Missy Olive 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.
SEEK of CT is a social welfare organization, organized under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code. Donations to 501(c)(4) organizations are not tax-deductible for the individual or corporation making the donation. 501(c)(4) organizations are required to disclose certain information publicly, although we are not required to disclose the name and address of any contributor to the organization. Under this statute, we are permitted to lobby extensively and to participate in political activity in support of or opposition to candidates for office, as long as such election activities are not our primary activity