Murphy, Hesse, Toomey & Lehane, LLP Partners Present in Collaboration with North River Collaborative
On August 25, 2021, Mary Ellen Sowyrda and Alisia St. Florian, two Partners at Murphy, Hesse, Toomey & Lehane, LLP, presented for the North River Collaborative. This three-hour presentation, titled “The More Things Change The More They Stay The Same: Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Special Education Practice”, covered relevant topics pertaining to special education, COVID-19 and the upcoming school year. The previous school year was significantly disrupted due to the pandemic, during their presentation, Ms. Sowyrda and Ms. St. Florian outline the new and old policies that can be expected during this school year. They discuss topics such as mandatory in-school learning and the lack of remote options, mask wearing, evaluations, and what happens if a parent or guardian won’t consent to testing. In addition, they outline home/hospital instructions for any student that has been instructed by a physician to remain home or in hospital for medical reasons for no less than 14 days. In this instance, the student would participate in home/hospital tutoring until they are cleared to return to in-school learning.
Mary Ellen Sowyrda is a Partner and heads the Special Education Department within the firm. The firm currently represents more than 125 school districts and educational collaboratives in the practice area of Special Education Law. She is involved in all aspects of litigation and alternative dispute resolution at the Bureau of Special Education Appeals, including representing clients at hearings, settlement conferences, pre-hearing conferences and mediations. She provides clients with daily advice on school-related legal issues including all aspects of special education, Section 504, student discipline, student records and anti-bullying laws, and deals with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and other state agencies. Ms. Sowyrda is a Phi Beta Kappa summa cum laude graduate of Boston College and a graduate of Boston College Law School. She is a member of the Massachusetts Bar Association and has been annually named a Super Lawyer by Boston Magazine from 2006 to the present.
Alisia St. Florian is a Partner and a member of the firm’s Special Education Law Group. Ms. St. Florian represents school districts in all aspects of special education litigation, from administrative hearings at the Massachusetts Bureau of Special Education Appeals (BSEA) through to all levels of judicial appeal. In addition, she frequently presents workshops on issues regarding special education, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, state and federal student record regulations, bullying, and civil rights laws both to client groups and at state conferences including at the Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education (MCLE). Prior to joining the firm, Ms. St. Florian worked for five years as a Victim/Witness Advocate in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, Child Abuse Unit. She received her Bachelor’s degree from Bates College, her Master’s degree in Education in Counseling Psychology from Boston University and her Juris Doctor, with honors, from Suffolk University Law School.
Attorney Felicia Vasudevan, a partner at Murphy, Hesse, Toomey & Lehane, LLP, received a favorable decision on behalf of her client, Marshfield Public Schools. The Plaintiff appealed the district court’s judgement that upheld a decision of the Massachusetts Bureau of Special Education Appeals (“BSEA”). However, as the notice was filed more than 30 days after entry, the First Circuit ultimately dismissed the appeal for being untimely. The Plaintiff also appealed the district court’s order, denying her motion to vacate. Read More
Following our Alert from March 16, 2023, Civility is Dead – The Supreme Court Rules Municipal Control of Public Speak Limited to Reasonable Time/Place/Manner Restrictions, which discussed the holding to the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision in Barron v. Kolenda and the Town of Southborough (SJC-13284), we promised to bring you more detailed guidance on developing a Public Speak policy for your public body or municipality. The Barron case involved a constitutional challenge to the Town of Southborough’s public comment policy, which attempted to impose a code of civility on members of the public who participated in public comment before public bodies. In Barron, the court interpreted the state constitution to mean that public bodies may request, but not require, that public commentators be respectful and courteous. Instead, a public body may set restrictions on reasonable time, place, and manner comments to ensure that the meeting retains an orderly and peaceable manner.