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Nov 25, 2020

Today we talk to Mandy Favolaro & Missy Alexander about the Annual COPAA Conference. COPAA stands for Council of Parents Attorneys and Advocates, an organization dedicated to protecting and enforcing the legal and civil rights of students with disabilities and their families. Their primary goal is to secure high quality educational services and to promote excellence in advocacy and their Annual Conference is one of the ways in which they do it!

If you aren't familiar with COPAA, join us to learn about one of the best conferences out there for parents of students with disabilities (and attorneys and advocates). And if you are familiar with this inspiring conference, then listen in to hear about all the cool ways they plan to host the conference virtually this year!

You can check COPAA out at and register for the conference here:

You can learn more about Mandy Favaloro here:

You can learn more about Missy Alexander here:


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Missy Alexander, Mandy Favaloro, Dana Jonson

Dana Jonson 00:02
Hello, and welcome to need to know with Dana Jonson. I'm your host, Dana Jonson and I'm here to give you the information you need to know to best advocate for your child. I'm a special education attorney in private practice, a former special education teacher and administrator, a current mom to four children with IPS and I myself have ADHD and dyslexia. So I have approached the world of disability and special education from many angles. And I'll provide straightforward information about your rights and your schools obligations, information from other professionals on many topics, as well as tips and tricks for working with your school district. My goal is to empower you through your journey. So if there's anything you want to hear, comment on, join our Facebook group, it's aptly named need to know with Dana Jonson, or you can email me at Dana at special ed dot life. Okay, let's get started. Damn speaking with Mandy favaloro and Missy Alexander, who are co chairs of the conference committee for the Council, a parent attorneys and advocates otherwise known as COPPA, co If you're interested, I talk about them all the time. So I'm sure you've heard of them on my podcast. And Mandy is an attorney from California and Missy is an advocate from Maryland. Can't believe I almost got that wrong.

Mandy Favaloro 01:28
He's an advocate from Maryland. And so first, why don't you guys introduce yourselves a little bit. I'd like to hear what you guys do and how you came to here and what you're doing on COPPA? Mandy? Sure, I'll go first. My name is Mandy favaloro. And I'm an attorney that I just represent students with disabilities in the special education system. I've been doing it for 15 years. And the first COPPA conference I went to was in 2005. So almost as soon as I was sworn in, I went to a conference. And I've been going ever since. And I think I've been involved COPPA, with the training Committee, which does our webinars, which have been in place for a number of years, I taught feet for about six years, which is a special education advocacy training program. And that's all done online. And I have been doing I've been on the conference committee for maybe four or five years now, maybe six years. And they all the years are kind of melding together on this. And Missy, who has been doing that for a very long time has sort of been my mentor and all things conference committee, and I've been presenting at the conference for a long time. Even before that, I have an interest in sort of sharing my knowledge and letting people know what we do and how to advocate for their own students and advocate for other students. And I'm currently the vice chair of the Coppa board of directors. Very nice. And Missy, also a board member, I believe, yes, I am a board member. I've been in the world of specialized advocacy. For a long time. My eldest, my youngest daughter is 28. And she has an autism spectrum disorder. And she was educated in our public school system, her entire educational career until she was 21 years old. So I've seen the bowels of special ed. And it's not pretty, but we live to tell about it.

Missy Alexander 03:19
I work for Maryland's Parent Training and Information Center, every state has at least one as required by idea part day. And I've been with parents place for 18 years. So I've been doing this professionally for with other families for a little over 18 years now. And it's here in Maryland, and my work includes working with families directly, they also do some training. I also am involved in some local and statewide systemic work just depends on who's talking to what what committee I get invited to and, and if I feel it's, you know, worthwhile cause and I've been a member of COPPA for a long time. And I don't know how long I should have looked it up that I'm sorry, I didn't, but I don't know. And I've been going to the Coppa conference since second or third conference. I don't remember when that was I should have looked it up. And I didn't know sorry. list for me one year, so I could refer to it. Just so you've really been I've been going for so long. I've been here co chair of the advocate. They was co chair the advocate committee for a while. And then I became co chair of the conference committee, and I really enjoy doing that. And I'm like, Mandy, I want to share what I know with others. I don't want to hold on to it. If I knew it, I want everybody to know it. I think that's really, really important. And for COPPA, I'm also on the board and I was the first advocate chair of the board. Remember that? And I live to tell about it. So I think that was really, really great.

Dana Jonson 04:47
Yes, that is wonderful. And I do think it's important to say for those who don't know, COPPA, and I just think it's so critical that I always assume everyone knows what it is and that everyone's a member, but it's a wonderful organization and they work on not only legislatively to try and get things passed on behalf of children with disabilities, but they also do a tremendous amount of training and support for people who do advocate for children with disabilities, as well as parents. And I also have been going to Copa for a very long time, I believe. And the conference is possibly my favorite part of the year. And I've been going to the cup of conference for at least 12 years, I think, at least. But it's wonderful, because not only are you surrounded by like minded people, but it's such a wonderful wealth of information for parents and attorneys and advocates. So could you guys talk a little bit about what the goal is of the conference, how you guys develop it and make those determinations as to what you're going to put out there. And and what it does for people, for parents and attorneys and advocates? Sure, I

Mandy Favaloro 05:56
think the the part that we plan is really the the teaching and the breakouts and the keynote speaker. So all of that is planned ahead of time, we have a process where we get proposals from members and from people kind of outside the organization who give us their proposals about what they want to teach what they want to pass along their knowledge. And we have a committee that really goes through that process, and picks out the ones that we think are the best, which is very difficult. Some years, we get hundreds of applications, and there's about maybe around 40 spots on a typical year. So that is a laborious process. I think the part of the conference that brings people back every year is really the networking and getting to know people, meaning people from your area meeting parents that are going through the same thing that other parents are going through finding people that they really like to learn from I know Missy has her favorite instructors that she will go to whatever they teach about whatever topic. So you really make connections with people. And I think that that is what keeps people coming back. And they'll learning is sort of an add on bonus to that. But we're really proud of it. I think we you know, we put in a lot of work, the staff puts in a huge amount of work. As copas grown, we've got a lot more staff that's dedicated to the conference than ever before, even in the five years that I've been doing this, and I'm sure even more as long as he's been doing it. And they do a lot of the day to day work of answering everyone's questions and registration just open for this here. And there's a lot of very specific questions. And all of those are being answered by you know, Marcy, and Denise who is our executive director or CEO, and Marcy who's really kind of in charge in the heart of the company.

Missy Alexander 07:40
MRC is like the glue, she did the keeps it all together. And sort of a little bit of a historical perspective of COPPA and the conference. While it's the Council of parent attorneys and advocates, it was really attorneys taking the lead. And we have really morphed advocates have really pushed their way into things so that we're now pretty much 5050 on the board and advocates and attorneys Wow, this year, I believe we have more advocate members than attorney members. And we wanted to reflect that in the conference. So as each year has gone on, we've included more and more in different categories to meet the needs of our various learners. And we've done a really, from my perspective, a really good job with making sure we have good quality content for advocates. And now we're saying hey, we also have parent members, too. So for the last couple of years, we've been working on being very intentional, that we have offerings for family for parents, who aren't quite ready to sit and listen to a two hour dissertation about the Andrew f case like I would be but yeah, so I think that we have a lot of really great subjects for a lot of people. And I think that's a great point. I

Dana Jonson 09:01
mean, the counselor, parent attorneys and advocates started as more of a professional organization, I believe, and and as advocates sort of became just, you know, evolved out of parents who had been through this process, and could help other parents who maybe didn't need an attorney to come in and litigate a case, but they needed support this growing body of parents who started to do it, not just for fun or to help their friends but they started to do it professionally. And I got to watch that my time attending COPPA is to see that change how how it used to be parents and advocates are kind of lumped together. And then now I know that advocates, it's an actual profession that we now treat as such. And I love the conferences reflecting that I think there's also been a growth in options for parents to write up. Absolutely I know, I know that there's a pre conference that And then the main conference. So can you talk a little bit about the difference between those two components? Sure. So

Mandy Favaloro 10:06
in a typical year, we have the pre conference and main conference are kind of together, they're back to back. It runs from Thursday to Sunday. And we'll talk a little bit about how that can be different this year. But yeah, basically, the conference runs from Thursday through Sunday, and Thursday and Friday, we have our pre conference training, which had includes skill based training, those go on for about two days, summer one day, but our big ones are really two day trainings. They focus on new attorneys. There's advocates specific training for brand new advocates all the way to advocates who are maybe ready to conduct a due process hearing if that's allowed in their state. We also have four new attorneys, we do due process training, those are ones that have been around for a long time, and are very successful, and people love. And those run Thursday and Friday, Friday night, we sort of have like an opening reception and a keynote speaker and then the main conference where we have breakout sessions starts Saturday. And so on Saturday and Sunday, there's breakfast, there's lunch provided with speakers and an award ceremony. The breakout sessions are about six runs simultaneously. So there's probably three typically on a Saturday and two or three on the Sunday. And those are very specific to topics so people can choose what they want to go watch and interact with the presenters who are talking for about 90 minutes, typically in person. And then there's usually Question and Answer periods, those are all recorded. And then you can kind of buy a recording later if there's a topic that you didn't get to go to or a session that you really want to hear over and over again. And that has been a really successful format. I think that's worked for, you know, it was last year, our 20th conference, I believe was the 20 right around 20. We may be past 20. But you know, it's worked for a really long time. And it's fun, it's grown.

Dana Jonson 11:57
Yeah. Every first went it was just a Friday, Saturday, it was just Saturday, Sunday, I think so

Mandy Favaloro 12:02
I grown every year the number of people that are there, I think the pre conference, Ystad, you know, be smaller, we keep adding sessions on to that, as we, you know, grow and are taking over spaces and larger hotels and conference space that we can get, we kind of offer as many sessions as possible. And there's ones that people will take twice, because they learned so much the first time that they're, you know, we're going to take it again, so we can get something else out of it the second time. And I really think that, you know, even someone who's been doing this a long time, or someone who's brand new, you get something different out of it. I know that you know, I've been doing this for a while. But if I get one thing out of every conference, I consider that successful. And it might be from someone that I'm teaching who has a tip that I haven't thought of who has a situation that I have not come across. And it really changes the way you think about your clients when you go back home. And you're in your practice, or you're advocating for your own child or for other students. And you're really, you can put that into what you're doing on a day to day basis. And I find that every year there's something new that I learned like a nugget that I can take away from a presentation that really changes the way I think and that I can kind of move forward with

Missy Alexander 13:15
students I used to alternate when COPPA first started. One year I go to the Coppa conference and other year I'd go to the conference of another national organization that was more disability specific. And then after I had done that, I went to COPPA, what's the other one and then I went to COPPA. And then I went to the other one. And that was the last time I did that, because the quality of the materials themselves are worth attending the Copa conference, you get a compendium of everybody's presentations. The other one of the speakers brought copies of their PowerPoints on when they ran out. Oh, well, I mean, just the quality was just not there. That's one thing that I liked. And like Mandy said, you can get recordings of sessions, so you can listen to them, you know, throughout the year, as well as your you are hearing from people who argue and when before the Supreme Court on special ed issues, who better to learn from, that's the lewdly.

Dana Jonson 14:14
Absolutely. And the Compendium, you're right, the materials are amazing. And that volume of information. I always take those companions and I have them in my office, I was really excited when you guys started doing it digitally. made me really happy in my office. Let's also talk a little bit about parents because with COPPA, and I want to focus on the conference. But I also want to mention that there's a lot of other supports that COPPA offers. So you know, the list serves for one. And missy. I don't know if he's still moderate. I know you did for a while, moderate some of them. So maybe you could talk a little bit to the listeners. And then I want to get back conference.

Missy Alexander 14:49
We have shifted from a traditional listserv to a community platform, but it's virtually the same thing. You're getting email lesson. Yeah, I'm on moderated the long list, so I had to tell the attorneys, you need to turn your pose. And then I'd see him at the conference. I'd be like, Hi, I'm so glad to meet you. I miss you, Alexandra, you're the one that tells me to turn my post all the time. Sorry, sorry, not sorry. But it's, it's really great. We have a general list. And for families, you know, I was able years ago when my daughter was little to get 90 hours of combat service based on training i'd received as a parent. Now granted, I had a paralegal background. But I was able to get that for her based on what I had learned. So if parents if they feel like it's too overwhelming to learn, it's not just take what you need to get from that and more fit into moving forward into what you want to know.

Dana Jonson 15:45
Yeah. And I do, I think that it's also there's the listserv for attorneys, where it's wonderful to be able to communicate with with just people who are doing what you do, and looking at it from just that legal perspective, and the same from the parent perspective to be able to reach out and have an attorney respond and say, that doesn't sound right now, and we can't always we can't give specific legal advice on the listserv, but certainly to say, you know what, maybe you should look in this direction. And to get that information, as you said, you know, these are people who are arguing before the Supreme Court who better to learn from

Missy Alexander 16:21
exactly, you know, and the list, the general list, we have lists for different memberships, there's a parent list, there's the advocate list, there's, I think it's advocate related professionals. And I'm all in the parent list and the advocate list. And every now and again, I'll say, please put this on the general list. Because I know there are attorneys on there, and they will give you answers. And it's exactly what you said, Dan, they're not offering legal advice at all. But they're giving you a different framework to think about, or, you know, a different way to approach it, or what to research or guidance, don't go down that rabbit hole, it's not worth it. You know, it really sound advice that you're getting for the price of a membership.

Dana Jonson 17:03
Yeah. And then and that level of information, I'm sure is what brought rise to the conference. So now, last year, I went to the conference. And while we were at the conference, I believe COVID was exploding.

Mandy Favaloro 17:16
We got in under the wire, we were one re last conference in that hotel, everyone was canceling after us. So we, I think I flew home, like on the 11th or something of March, and I had this awful flight where I had to, like go through Seattle before I came back down to California. And you know, everyone was panicking. And if you coughed in the airport, you know, Death Stare. So it was certainly we were right at the beginning of this, and we were lucky enough to get in and not have anyone gets sick as from getting into the conference. We definitely had a few people who had to cancel because they were worried about their own health had, you know, weaker immune systems. And that was, you know, obviously understandable. So but we It was a successful conference nonetheless. And I think as soon as we came back, we started thinking, what are we going to do next year? And how are we going to address this? You know, should this continue? Right? And

Dana Jonson 18:07
it it was and it was it was that awkward? Sort of no one knew whether we should be panicked or not like we heard it was bad, but we didn't really know yet. And there's hand sanitizer everywhere. And that anybody but no mask yet? That's right. We weren't into masks yet. No, we did not know about those yet. So yeah, we had no idea what we had in store for us. So as with many conferences that have been going on since March, they've been virtual, and that you guys are taking this virtual. So tell us what that's gonna look like? Sure. So

Mandy Favaloro 18:39
I think that, you know, there were some challenges kind of going into that the decision about when we were going to actually make that decision. And if we wanted to wait until the last minute, I think we decided to do it early. And certainly there were people that had concerns about making the I think we decided what like an April or May that we were really going to go forward virtually just to be safe and not have to basically be planning to kind of simultaneous conferences in the event that we weren't going to be able to show up the conference was supposed to be in Irvine in March of 2021. In the hood, I know it's not I'm still sad, I'm sad to I was gonna have to drive down the road. So we made the decision pretty early to go virtual so that we can let our presenters know, we wanted to make sure that people were comfortable presenting virtually some people are not technologically savvy and you know, have said to us, they they don't want to do webinars. So if they didn't want to do a webinar, we were concerned about switching at the last minute and saying we're gonna go in person, oh, wait, now you have to do it virtually and making sure that everyone knew upfront what to expect and what was happening. So that's, that's why the decision was made so early. We, you know, something like timing. The regular conference runs from about, you know, eight in the morning until six at night, but we had to adjust our schedule so that, you know, people on the West Coast weren't expected to sign on at 5am You know, we had to make sure that we adjusted that some of our regular lunch is now a breakfast slash lunch so that, you know, everybody is at the same time eating and we're having extended breaks for people. You know, we did think a lot about typically, our breakouts are a little bit longer. But there was a concern about people being able to engage in online learning for 90 minutes without any breaks. And you know,

Dana Jonson 20:24
a typical day we're learning from the student. Yeah,

Mandy Favaloro 20:27
I think that a typical conference, you know, is, it's a lot, I think, even in person, it's a long day, and people get tired. And so we wanted to make sure that people weren't getting fatigued. So we've we've adjusted the schedule to really take that into consideration. Yeah,

Dana Jonson 20:41
I know that that at the end of the Cobra conference, I always say like, it's the best time, but I'm exhausted, my brain is exhausted, because I've taken in so much information. But so what kind of topics are you covering this year? Has that changed at all? How when you change your format, did that impact at all how you decided to solicit topics? Because I know that often, you put out a list and say you're you're welcome to or you you're open to any proposals, but you usually put out a list of here's some topics that we're seeing that are pretty hot that we think need to be addressed.

Mandy Favaloro 21:18
Yeah, I think so I think we got a lot of presentations surrounding that surrounding, you know, accommodations to address during this time period, distance learning. So we've tried to bring some of those topics and as well as just traditional topics that we focus on a lot from year to year, because that's what people need to know that they're going to need to know after this is all over and everybody's back in school. So I think we were able to get a mix so that we're able to address really what's currently happening for people and some of the unique situations that need to be addressed right now. As well as the kind of ongoing learning that you're going to need to know after hopefully everybody's allowed back in school full time.

Dana Jonson 21:55
And what are some of the ongoing learning ones? I know you have some some programs that repeat every year that are very popular. So what are some of those?

Mandy Favaloro 22:03
Yeah, so the format this year is it's a little bit different than kind of just a Thursday to Sunday, because we didn't want to burn people out. So we are doing our two days skills based training, sort of a week before the end of February. And those are really our most popular topics that we've done from year to year, the new attorneys, the due process, training, advocacy, one on one, which is one that Mitzi has been teaching for a number of years with a co presenter, as well as the advanced advocate training for due process. So those are standard, they've been on our agenda for years they are being adjusted to, I think that we've kind of trimmed the day a little bit. So they are being adjusted to run a little bit quicker in the format so that we don't burn people out online. We've now have also come up with these sort of on demand special topics that include I think you're doing one on podcasting for special we're doing there's a school refusal twice exceptional students technology, that's a big one right now, because so many people are using technology in a way that they haven't before, it was sort of like an option. And it was something you know, that certain kids were using that had assistive technology. But right now everyone is having to use technology to learn. So we have a lot of presentations on that we have our traditional kind of case law review that everyone enjoys, we have sort of two different formats that we do that and and then when we move into the virtual summit, that's going to be a week later, that is going to have those 3636 breakout sessions. And those are going to be on some new topics that are going to be very specific to this as well, as you know, topics that we talked about a lot. We also were looking into, you know, we talk a lot about diversity and equity and education. So there's topics that are going to address that as well.

Dana Jonson 23:53
Those are pretty big issues right now. Definitely. How do you choose the topics that you pick? Like, how do you decide this is something we need more of, or this is something that has to be addressed? Now, like COVID is obvious, right? Like, yes, no one's gonna give a talk and not mention COVID. That's not getting nothing. That doesn't mean it has to be COVID specific. But how do you decide this?

Missy Alexander 24:17
Well, one of the things that we look at our evaluations from the previous year's conference, what do people want to know, we ask for input? We kind of keep an eye on the listservs to see are there hot topics? You know, is there any case law or any litigation that people would want to know more about, I don't want to say as worthy because that that passes judgment, but what people want to know more about that. So those are things that would be sort of what I would refer to as like a fresh topic, something different, but there are standard topics that every year people want to hear about. And sometimes it's People like Randy said, it'll might be the second or third time they've heard it. Some people might have heard about it previously, and now want to listen, we really try, we really put forth a lot of intentional effort to meet the needs of our audience, you know, we we feel an obligation to them, to provide them with what they want, and what maybe what they need. And sometimes we'll choose things that hopefully will garner their interest, maybe they don't realize they need it, but if they receive training on it, so those are things that that we try to kind of put them all together. And then we say, how many spaces do we have? How many sessions can we have? And then we have to play Solomon and decide who you know, what are we to recut? What do we have to cut. And that's why I really like that we're having those on demand sessions this year. Because they're really a lot of those speakers are high quality that I know, I would want to hear. And we're offering them to everyone, so they weren't carved out. And I think, oh, sorry, who's to say so that on demand piece. So that's going to be the list that they can watch it anytime,

Dana Jonson 26:06
yes, the others will be scheduled, and you'll be watching them live,

Mandy Favaloro 26:10
right. So they will be pre recorded. So the presentation will be pre recorded. But the presenter so for example, I'm doing a breakout session, I will be pre recording my presentation, but then I'm available live to ask questions after the session. And something that's really unique this year is typically, if you're attending the conference, and you don't get to go to a section, there's we talked about the tape recordings, those are sold, that's a separate cost to someone attending the conference. But this year, because everything's pre recorded the presentation, you as someone who are choosing to go to one presentation live will have the opportunity later to view the pre recorded session that occurred at the same time. So you really will you can access all 36 of those sessions if you choose to do so. So that's a really unique situation that we're able to kind of offer people this year because of the fact that we're virtual,

Dana Jonson 27:01
Oh, that's wonderful. And that has been a benefit, I think for some other conferences I've attended, because you know, you always have that one session where the three top things you want to see are all playing at the exact same time. And as you said, Miss, you can't get to everyone to get all the handouts. And so that's, that's wonderful. And I've also found that, at least for me, as a COPPA member, if somebody calls me and says, I got your name from COPPA, and I have these questions, or I need to talk to you, it's almost like there's some connection there. Because we've all been to COPPA, you know. And when we go to COPPA, and we're talking about the different levels for attorneys, and parents and advocates, but it's not separated like that, when you're there. It's not, you might have different interests and different sessions, but the whole conference is for everybody. And that's what I think is so great is to be able to see and hear from different people's perspectives, what's going on. And you know, I'm a parent, and I'm an attorney. And it's, it's helpful for me, too, I've had I've had to hire an advocate for my own child. So it was helpful for me to know, what I was looking for. And what I needed in that even though I'm an attorney, and for me to as a professional, understand what advocates do and what their role is, and that that was something that I was able to learn and understand through COPPA. And I think, you know, we could talk about advocates forever, because there's only you know, that that, but one of the things that I love about COPPA and what I always refer people to, which is not part of the conference, but it is part of your training is the special education, advocacy, training for advocates. And when I, when I tell parents, anyone, or I speak to parents, and I say, if you're looking for an advocate, I strongly recommend you look into your trainings. And by the way, here's the training that really does give a very well rounded background to an advocate. Can you guys talk a little bit about seat?

Mandy Favaloro 28:53
Yeah, so Missy, your are you teaching feet kind of the 1.0 version? Yeah,

Missy Alexander 28:58
I'm the training team for 1.0. We divided it up. 1.0 is sort of like a pre seed. And then there's the standard seat that Mandy, led for many years. And then we created a seat 3.0 and that's for advocates that really want to hang a shingle. Mm hmm. And the nuances behind that, and the considerations and that kind of thing. But see 1.0 You know, it was interesting, when we were having conversations, and preparing for the conference, you know, gee, how long is too long, what people go, how long can we hold people's interest, blah, blah, blah. And I finally had to say, listen, when I teach seat 1.0, it's two hours and those people would stay on another hour if we let them. So if you are giving somebody information that they want, they lose track of time, they're not going to be watching the clock necessarily,

Dana Jonson 29:50
right well into your point. That's another reason why you want to make sure people are comfortable presenting that array.

Mandy Favaloro 29:57
They think it's a it's a different you know, Beast, you don't I taught feet what is now see 2.0 for about five years, and every year, I kind of come in and do one class every year on section 504. And you don't necessarily see the students kind of everybody's you can go into the video. But while you're teaching, you don't have like a classroom in front of you can't see everyone and people are raising their hands virtually, you have to answer questions. And it certainly takes some time, I think to get used to that format. And teaching in that format, we wanted to make sure everyone was comfortable the going back to seat that's it's a year long course. So there's a lot of information that people who take that year long c point C 2.0 are getting out of it. They're learning, you know about state procedures, federal procedures, how to advocate at IEP meetings, how to deal with section 504, there's just it's, it's very intensive, and they're putting in a lot of work. It's, you know, every week to ours. And as Missy said, you know, we you could talk for three hours just presenting and answering questions, and people get very invested in that, because they've, you know, they've obviously paid for that. And even the presenters who are addressing the topics are passionate about what they're talking about. So, you know, I presented last Friday for two hours, we could have probably presented for four hours with all the questions that we were getting, and scenarios that people have that are that everyone can learn from, you know, if you have a situation that I've not addressed, but I might have some tips for that it can, you know, everyone's learning from each other. It's a really unique program.

Dana Jonson 31:33
No, it's wonderful. And it's, it's, I think it's the best training, I really think that if someone's going to do it professionally, they really need to invest in that component, because you get that well rounded training. And it's easy to go through the process as a parent, and only really deal with the pieces that relate to your own case. And you have to learn a lot more than what your child needs in order to be able to advocate for them. So you do learn all this stuff that that you have to share. But I think he gives a great well rounded so that you get to see all aspects of it. And and you know, it's it's a testament to the training that COPPA does. And just as the conference, you know, comes across this training, and I think even with the seat program, you still have tons of advocates at the conference every year, because there's even more available there. And as you were saying, Misty, that you go back to the same people, I do that too. And I find that it depends on what cases I have that year, one year, I happen to have a lot of reading cases, and that might be the piece I pull out of somebody's presentation. And the next year, I happen to be in the middle of an autism case, and I go to the same presentation, I might pull something completely different out of it. So it really it's it's an amazing wealth of information for everyone in the Special Ed, parent side special ed world.


Dana Jonson 32:52
then brings me to what about teachers who are parents, and they come to your conference,

Missy Alexander 32:58
they can, as a parent, there is an exception process, we had one situation, it's an exception process. And we mean it, it's a process, do it ahead of time, I remember when we were in Baltimore one year, and a teacher just kind of slid in under the radar, and was sharing, you know, wanting to everybody to know what the teacher side of it was, hadn't gone through the exception process. And we had to say you can't continue to attend the conference. You know, we mean it, we have a responsibility to our members, they trust us as a board and as leaders to ensure that we uphold what we say we're going to uphold. And part of that is we are for the children and the families. Not necessarily for the school folks, the school folks have their own organizations that they go to. So you know, we have exception processes for membership, we have exception processes for the conference, and people rely on us and expect us to follow those processes. And we really do our due diligence on them.

Mandy Favaloro 34:05
And I think that the reason for that is to really create a safe space for parents and advocates and attorneys who are doing this, you know, if you are a parent, and you have a concern about your specific school district, you want to be able to share that concern without getting backlash from somebody from that school district who may be part of the conversation as well. And that's, I think that's kind of the global reason behind it is to really encourage an open dialogue and have people feel that they're in a safe space online when they're sharing when they're at the conference. And they're sharing. So that's why it seems sometimes I think, a little strict to some people. But the idea is really just to protect our members and allow them to have that open communication and dialogue. They don't feel like they can't ask a specific question that it's going to kind of come back and haunt them at some later point.

Dana Jonson 34:50
And I think that was also a good point, which is that school districts do have their own organizations and they have a lot more organization many more organization. With with a lot more money than what parents have access to. So I think that's a really important point too. It's not a matter of excluding people, we want teachers and administrators and everybody else to learn what we're learning, we just know that they have other options. And, and parents didn't for a really, really long time only. Absolutely. Oh, and briefly and that I don't know if either of you are involved in this, but but can either of you talk just very briefly about some of the legislative stuff that COPPA does? Maybe not specifically, but I know that they Denise does a lot of work particularly

Mandy Favaloro 35:32
sure COPPA is involved in, in lobbying and working with legislators at the federal level, and really educating them about the needs of our constituents about parents, and the students and what they're looking for in, you know, what our needs are and what our interests are. So that's sort of where we are, I am not involved in that part of COPPA, I find it very interesting. But we do have a committee of people who are very well versed in that who do a lot of work, who, when we were in DC, and I think maybe in Baltimore as well, this last year, there was kind of a pre pre conference where the day before the pre conference, people went and spoke with their representatives on Capitol Hill to really advocate for students and, you know, let everyone know what the needs are and what we're looking for. And I think that, you know, Denise, and that committee, what, what's the name of the committee

was government

Missy Alexander 36:30
relations, government relations,

Mandy Favaloro 36:32
thank you, the Government Relations Committee, they are on top of it, and they know what's coming down and what we need to do. And I think, you know, when everything kind of went on lockdown, we also had a, like a campaign to like a letter writing campaign for some specific topic that I can't remember. But they, we, you know, sent out a blast to our membership and said, Here's a sample letter, call your representative, write an email, we've done that a few times. And I think it's been really successful for different areas that affect our students to say, look, here's a sample, here's your, here's how you find your representative, you can email them, you can leave them a message, and people respond to that very well. And I think we're seeing that more and more in the last few months, I think. So it's really kind of grassroots organizing to get people

Missy Alexander 37:18
involved. And I think our our members expect that of us to be knowledgeable about what's happening, I have seen just recently, the various listservs, bringing up a area of concern what is COPPA doing about this, what is COPPA know about this, there's COPPA involved in this. So people are realizing that we, as an organization, and Denise Marshall has really spearheaded this are invited to the table to talk about things as they're planned, which is a huge, huge thing to happen and to be heard and understood.

Dana Jonson 37:52
Yeah. And I do like that, I love that, you know, it takes the thinking out of it. For a lot of people, if I know, I'm gonna get that action alert from COPPA, that's gonna tell me when I have to do something that I don't have to have all of my radar out there. And because the board meets in person at the conference, usually, although this year will be different, typically, you know, everyone from the Government Relations Committee is there and they're accessible. And so for anyone, whether it's a parent, Attorney, advocate, provider, who are interested in those areas, and how to be active in their areas, they have access to this government relations committee that can help them and direct them in the right direction. So it really is, I can't say enough about all of the resources that that Kobe has. But I really appreciate you guys talking about the conference with me today, because I really am hoping that a lot of parents who are listening to this have either already heard of it and have already signed up and registered and are ready to go and will of course all be in my podcasting class, or that they are hearing us right now. And they're saying, Oh my god, I can't believe I didn't know what COPPA was or how great it was. And now I have to go sign up and I have to join. And when they think that, where do they go?

Mandy Favaloro 39:08
Sure. So you go to So it's co p And there will be a link for the conference. And I think registration actually opened yesterday. So it's live, it's up this week, you can register, I think, because it's virtual this year, that hopefully opens it up to more people because you don't have the typical cost of travel in a hotel and meals out of the home. So we're hoping that that really is going to make it accessible to more people this year as an introduction. So it's kind of less of an investment on your part. In terms of at least money. It's it's more time because you can go to so many more events and see so many more presentations and really get a taste for the conference this year. And hopefully, when we are Fingers crossed back in person in Boston in 2022 That we will see more people who have joined us virtually, who will now be making the you know the trip to join us in person. And with any with any conference of any kind, I am sure that this is going to be very high quality material, but I will miss the camaraderie and all of that that we get. And, and I do highly recommend that anybody listening to this who wasn't planning on it definitely attend because there's a ton of information. But even more importantly, I would recommend going when it's in person as well. Because just being able to be around people who are doing what you do or suffering through what you're suffering through, and who want to learn the same things you

Dana Jonson 40:40
want to learn are all there. And I know at least in my daily life, that isn't always the case. Thank you guys so much for joining me. I really appreciate it. Is there anything else that I missed that people

Missy Alexander 40:53
need to know about COPPA before we sign off? I don't think so. I think so either.

Mandy Favaloro 40:57
I think we we covered a lot.

Missy Alexander 40:59
Join us. Join us at just give us a year join us and we will definitely increase your knowledge and it for parents, it'll benefit your child. Yes, I

Dana Jonson 41:10
think empowering parents is a huge part of what happens at COPPA. So thank you. And thank you both for all of the time that you donate to make sure that this conference comes off. I think it's really important to mention that it is a voluntary board. You do this all for free because you believe in the cause. Yes, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much for joining me today. Please don't forget to subscribe to this podcast so that you get notifications when new episodes come out. And I want to know what you want to know. So join our Facebook group also named need to know with Dana Jonson, or you can email me, Dana at special ed dot life. But definitely reach out with your comments and questions and I'll see you next time here on me to know with Dana Jonson have a fabulous day