The recipient of this year's Special Education Advocacy Award was Elizabeth ("Liz") Barry Heddleston '15. The Special Education Advocacy Award is given each year at the annual Awards Ceremony during graduation weekend and is presented to a law student who has shown dedicated commitment to special education law and the rights of children. This award was established by Claire Maddox Ribble, and her husband, Bob, in honor of their son Evan and in memory of Evan's twin brother, Brooks.
Liz started working at the PELE Clinic in the fall of 2014 with little knowledge of special education law, but she quickly rose to the challenge. She was a zealous advocate for her clients and meticulously prepared for every client and school meeting. In one difficult case that she handled, a client was referred to court from school for behaviors related to the child's disability. Liz successfully assisted her client's public defender in getting the child's criminal charge dismissed by helping the public defender understand the child's complex special education history and needs. Liz was also chosen as a PELE II mentor for the spring 2015 semester and mentored two PELE I students. One mentee commented, "[She] was a phenomenal PELE II mentor. She went above and beyond to help us be successful. She made sure that we had the best start to the semester possible, teaching us all the administrative tasks up-front, so that we could focus on our clients instead of the 'how-tos' of the clinic. [...] We lucked-out when she was assigned as our mentor."
The William & Mary PELE Special Education Advocacy Clinic, since opening in the spring of 2009, has been assisting children with special needs and their families in Williamsburg, James City County, Hampton, and Newport News. William & Mary law students are supervised by Crystal Shin, Managing Attorney and Clinical Assistant Professor of Law. Professor Shin and the law students offer their services free of charge to families in the community.
The PELE Clinic assists special-needs children and their families with eligibility for special education services, Individualized Education Program meetings, discipline matters, mediation, and administrative hearings. The clinic is designed to bolster the partnership between families and schools.
Funding for the clinic is provided by an annual Institute of Special Education Advocacy in the summer. This five-day program is co-sponsored by the PELE Special Education Advocacy Clinic, Wrightslaw, and the Oklahoma Disability Law Center. The ISEA conference provides training in special education advocacy for experienced advocates, law students, new attorneys, and attorneys who are new to special education law.