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Virginia Coalition for Students with Disabilities

Board of Directors

  • Candace Cortiella has been working as a disability rights advocate since 1990. From 1994 to 1995 Ms. Cortiella worked as a government affairs associate for the National Center for Learning Disabilities, advocating for sound public policy on behalf of children and adults with learning disabilities. She directed LD OnLine, an award winning Web site providing information and resources on learning disabilities and special education, from 1996 to 2000. In 2000, Ms. Cortiella founded The Advocacy Institute, a non-profit organization that develops services and products to improve the lives of people with learning disabilities. She served on the Virginia State Special Education Advisory Panel from 1996-2000.

  • Sharon S. England, JD, MSW, served as practitioner, educator and administrator in the field of child welfare for nearly twenty years prior to receiving her law degree in January 1996. Ms. England was a social work practitioner in child protection providing family, individual and group counseling services to the child victims of physical and sexual abuse and their families for seven years. After obtaining her MSW in 1984 she became a child welfare trainer for judges, lawyers and social workers in Maryland and taught undergraduate and graduate course in child welfare as an adjunct faculty member at University of Maryland, Eastern Michigan University and Virginia Commonwealth University Schools of Social Work. Ms. England was the founding director of the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) of Baltimore, a program that received national recognition for its recruitment and retention of minority volunteers under her leadership. Upon obtaining her law degree, Ms. England assisted the Virginia Supreme Court with its implementation of the Virginia's Court Improvement Program. Ms. England dedicates her law practice to representing children as a guardian ad litem in custody, child protection, and delinquency hearings and special education matters and continues to provide training to attorneys, judges, social workers and CASA volunteers. Her publications includes video tapes on the experiences of children in the courtroom, a chapter on group work with sexually abused children and a law article co-written with Robert E. Shepherd, Jr. on the role of guardian ad litem.

  • Mary Kathryn Hart, Esq., has represented parents and their children in the field of special education rights since 1995 through private practice and as contract counsel for the Department for Rights of Virginians with Disabilities. From 1998 to 2000 Ms. Hart was the Managing Attorney for the Developmental Disabilities Program for the Department for Rights of Virginians with Disabilities (now the Virginia Office for Protection and Advocacy (VOPA). Ms. Hart has been faculty for disability and special education presentations for parents and teachers, the Virginia Centers for Independent Living, and the National Attorney General Civil Rights Conference. Ms. Hart holds a Juris Doctorate from the University of Richmond: T.C. Williams School of Law. Prior to entering the field of law, Ms. Hart served as a special education teacher certified in the fields of Learning Disabilities and Emotional Disturbances from 1986 to 1991 after graduating from the University of Virginia.

  • Malcolm B. Higgins, II, Esq., is a graduate of Willamette University College of Law and has been practicing 30 years. He serves on a committee protecting residents in a Virginia Beach Intermediate Care Facility/Mental Retardation operated by the Community Services Board. He has presented at various local workshops on topics involving planning for special needs children, as well as advocacy matters. He is a member of the Learning Disabilities Association of America, the Virginia Beach Bar Association and the Virginia State Bar. Together with other Tidewater advocates, he helped form an advocacy organization known as P.I.E.R [Protecting Individuals with disabilities Education Rights], which has become known for its workshops, school board voter's guides, and training of parents. He has been involved in extensive work with the Virginia Coalition for Students with Disabilities in the review and public comment on the Virginia special education regulations. Mr. Higgins represents parents of students with disabilities in the Tidewater area on matters involving their special needs children.

  • Maureen Hollowell is Director of Educational Advocacy at the Endependence Center in Norfolk, Virginia. She also serves on the Board of the Virginia Office for Protection and Advocacy (VOPA). Ms. Hollowell has served as Chair of the National Counsel on Independent Living's IDEA Committee, through which she became a core member of the national team working with Congress to develop amendments to the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Ms. Hollowell is the parent of a child who is deaf and has Spina Bifida who is now in college.

  • Reta Y. Lewis is an Intervention Strategist providing special education advocacy to parents of students with disabilities in the Northern Virginia area. Ms. Lewis began working with and representing individuals with disabilities in the area of disability rights and special education over 20 years ago in West Virginia with West Virginia Advocates. From 1990 to 1993 she served as the Director of the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness (PAIMI), where she was instrumental in establishing statewide standards and training for West Virginia state agencies charged with conducting abuse and neglect investigations. Ms. Lewis began her advocacy work in Virginia in 1993 with the Department for Rights of Virginians with Disabilities (DRVD), now the Virginia Office for Protection and Advocacy (VOPA), and the Virginia Protection and Advocacy Program. Ms. Lewis provides special education training for a number of disability groups and organizations, including the Parent Education Advocacy Training Center (PEATC). Ms. Lewis is an appointee of the Fairfax County School Board to the Advisory Committee for Students with Disabilities to represent Member-at-Large, Rita Thompson.

  • Darrel Tillar Mason, Esq., is an attorney in private practice in Glen Allen, Virginia and is founder of the Virginia Coalition for Students with Disabilities LEGAL ADVOCACY CENTER. Ms. Mason serves as contract counsel for the Virginia Office for Protection and Advocacy (VOPA) (formerly the Department for Rights of Virginians with Disabilities) and has served as a Special Education Hearing Officer through the Virginia Supreme Court. She received her Juris Doctor from the University of Virginia School of Law and holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English and a Master of Arts Degree in Education from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. She presently serves on the Board of Directors of TAP-VA (The Autism Program of Virginia) and is Vice Chair of the Board of Directors of AEL, Inc., a federally funded education research program. Ms. Mason formerly served as Vice President of the Virginia Board of Education.

  • Denise Swanson is a volunteer advocate helping parents who have a child with a disability obtain a Free Appropriate Public Education. Through community involvement, Ms. Swanson has worked to improve the education of children with disabilities in the Roanoke Valley. From 1991 to 1994 she was a member of the Roanoke County Special Education Advisory Committee and served as Chair for the 1993-1994 term. She also served as Program Director of "Open Doors Open Minds: Accessible Schools for All," in which she helped secure private funding for the placement of automated entry door operators for all 28 schools within the Roanoke County, Virginia school system. Ms. Swanson is a former member of the Roanoke County Virginia High School League Committee on Students with Disabilities and a former member of the Roanoke County Commission for Senior and Challenged Citizens. She is a 1978 graduate of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Ms. Swanson is the parent of a child with Neuromuscular Disease.

  • Adrienne E. Volenik, Esq., is currently a Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Disability Law Clinic at the University of Richmond. Previously she taught at Nova Southeasterns law school in Fort Lauderdale and in the University of Marylands Law School Clinical Program. She is a past director of the American Bar Associations Juvenile Justice Project and was an attorney with the National Center for Youth Law in St. Louis. Currently, she co-edits Juvenile Justice Update. She was a co-author of Law and Tactics in Juvenile Cases (2nd & 3rd eds.) and Jurisdiction in Child Custody and Abduction Cases. Before attending law school, she taught both middle and high school students in the public schools.

  • Peter W.D. Wright, Esq., has represented children with disabilities for more than 25 years. He represented Shannon Carter before the U.S. Supreme Court in Florence County School District IV v. Shannon Carter where he won a landmark 1993 victory that benefits all children with disabilities. Mr. Wright provides a Web site,, containing thousands of pages of articles, law, legal decisions, and letters from parents of children with special needs. He is a co-author of Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, a self-help law book, Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy - The Special Education Survival Guide, an advocacy book for parents and attorneys, and The Special Ed Advocate Newsletter, a free on-line newsletter for parents, educators, advocates and attorneys. Mr. Wright attended the T. C. Williams Law School at the University of Richmond and graduated in 1977. He serves on Advisory Boards and Boards of Director for numerous disability related organizations and has been a featured speaker at International Dyslexia Association, CHADD and LDAA annual national conferences.

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