Murphy, Hesse, Toomey & Lehane, LLP Attorneys Present for the MASC/MASS 2021 Joint Conference


Attorneys Mary Ellen Sowyrda and Vineesha Sow from Murphy, Hesse, Toomey & Lehane, LLP were invited to speak at this years’ joint conference with the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) and the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents (MASS). Their topic, titled “Coping with COVID: A Discussion of Legal and Special Education Issues Impacting Schools and Students, Resulting from the Pandemic”, focused on the progress over the past twelve months, new challenges, medical “excusals”, determining compensatory services, ongoing special education considerations, the collaboration with general education teachers to ensure provision of FAPE in least restrictive environments, and dealing with unilateral placements. Attorneys Sowyrda and Sow stressed the importance of remembering to write IEP’s when students have left and are “out of sight, but not out of mind.” They then went on to outline some recent BSEA decisions addressing unilateral placement issues. These cases included Lincoln Public Schools, where a parents’ unilateral placement was denied, and they cited the school’s unapproved status and failure to adhere to special education requirements. As well as Ruth and Marshfield Public Schools, the parents’ unilateral placement was denied but is currently on appeal. Finally, Hamilton Wenham Regional Schools, where the parents’ ongoing refusal to allow the district to evaluate the student’s significantly delayed IEP and placement process resulted in the parents’ unilateral placement being denied at two different schools.


Mary Ellen Sowyrda is a partner in the firm and heads the Special Education Department within Murphy, Hesse, Toomey and Lehane, LLP.  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 that are associated with the provision of special education services to students.


Ms. Sow is an attorney in the firm’s Education Law and Special Education Law Groups.  Prior to coming to Murphy, Hesse, Toomey & Lehane, LLP, she held positions, representing indigent clients in special education matters, and providing mental health advocacy to children with complex mental health needs. As part of Ms. Sow’s work in education law she has provided several trainings in the areas of special education, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, school discipline and bullying/cyberbullying to medical and mental health professionals, public school districts, and community service agencies throughout Massachusetts. She has lectured at Harvard Law School and Boston College Law School on the topic of system-involved youth and the impact of special education and school discipline laws on this population. Ms. Sow is an Adjunct Professor at Bunker Hill Community College where she teaches Legal Research and Writing.

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