The founders of S.E.L.F. believe in leveling the special education playing field for all families. We believe in making a “free and appropriate public education” accessible to all by providing financial assistance in the form of grants for special education legal fees.
Special Education Legal Fund (S.E.L.F.) was founded by parents who have navigated the special education system for their children, for parents who may need financial support to secure legal assistance for their own children in special education.
Education for children with disabilities in the United States is governed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990 (amended 2004), which states that children with disabilities are entitled to a “free and appropriate public education.”
Before IDEA and its predecessor act, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHCA), only twenty percent of children with disabilities were receiving an education, and many states had laws in effect preventing certain types of children (physically handicapped, emotionally disturbed, etc) from attending public schools.
IDEA’s goal is to provide children with disabilities access to the same educational opportunities that exist for children without disabilities. IDEA’s main focus is on leveling educational opportunity for children with disabilities by ensuring they receive an individualized education that is free and appropriate for the child.
The law also focuses on early intervention and identification of children who may need services and ensuring that children with disabilities are educated with their typical peers to the greatest extent possible.
However, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was only partially funded at the time of the law’s creation, and funding for IDEA was reduced still further several years later. Today, only about 20% of the costs of educating children with disabilities according to the mandates created by IDEA are borne by the US government.
The remainder of those costs fall squarely on states and local school districts who shoulder the rising costs of educating a growing population of children with disabilities. Because of this fact, cost is a factor with every child in special education, and parents and districts may sometimes come into conflict.
For the average parent, advocating for a child in special education can be an overwhelming experience. When a child receives a referral for special education, it is often a confusing and emotional time. The child may be underperforming academically; there may be behavioral problems; there are often social issues. Under pressure and confused, parents who lack information and resources may agree to an educational program that is not appropriate or does not meet their child’s needs.
Special Education Legal Fund was created to provide parents in need with the financial support necessary to secure legal assistance in special education for their child or children.
Board of Directors
Christine W. Lai has been advocating for individuals with autism, including her 13-year old son, for over ten years. She is a current member of the Board of Directors of NEXT for Autism, a non-profit organization that designs and launches innovative programs to improve the lives of individuals living with autism. Ms. Lai is co-chair of Columbia University’s Fairfield County Alumni Relations Committee.
From 2013 to 2016, Ms. Lai served on the Board of Directors for Abilis, an agency providing services to individuals and families affected by developmental disorders, most recently as Board Chair.
From 2006 to 2009, Ms. Lai was Chief Financial Officer for a startup children’s personal care company. Prior to that, she was a buy-side equity research analyst at Carlson Capital and Chilton Investment Company. Earlier in her career, she was a research analyst in sell-side equity research at JP Morgan and Sanford C. Bernstein. Ms. Lai graduated from Columbia College at Columbia University with a degree in History.
Ulrika Drinkall has been advocating for children with special needs, including her 9-year old son, for over 6 years. Ms. Drinkall is currently a member of the Executive Committee and a Director at Abilis, an agency providing services to individuals and families affected by developmental disorders. Ms. Drinkall is also the founder of a support group for mothers of children with special needs.
From 2005 through 2007, she worked for Svenska Handelbanken in Stockholm, where she responsible for institutional marketing. Ms. Drinkall was also a discretionary manager for high net worth clients’ portfolio management. Prior to that, Ms. Drinkall was an equity salesperson at Chevreux and PK Securities. Ms. Drinkall has a Masters Degree in Business and Economics from Uppsala University in Sweden.
Michael Delgass is Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of Sontag Advisory, a New York City based wealth manager, investment advisor, consultant, and fiduciary. Mr. Delgass is a frequent author and speaker on his topics of expertise. He has been featured in numerous national media publications and has appeared as a guest on nationally-syndicated radio shows.
Before joining Sontag Advisory in 2005, Mr. Delgass was a partner at prominent New York Metro and New England law firms, including Day Berry & Howard, LLP and Cummings & Lockwood, LLC. He is a former Adjunct Professor of Estate and Gift Taxation at Northwestern University School of Law, and a former faculty member of the National Trust School and National Graduate Trust School of the American Bankers Association. Mr. Delgass received a BS in Biology, Geology, and Chemistry, from Indiana University and earned his JD from The University of Chicago Law School. In addition to the Board of S.E.L.F., Mr. Delgass is currently Treasurer of the Board of Directors for the Westport Arts Center, and also serves on its Investment Committee.
Craig Elkind is the father of a teenager on the autism spectrum has been advocating for his son for over ten years. Mr. Elkind has been a member of the Board of the Association of Insurance and Financial Analysts since 2005. In addition, he is current Treasurer of the Connecticut Zoological Society (Beardsley Zoo), where he has been a board member since 2015. Mr. Elkind is also actively involved in his alma mater, Colgate University, where he has served as professional advisor to the Colgate Investment Group (CIG) since 2015.
Mr. Elkind has managed his family office since early 2014. Prior to that, Mr. Elkind was a portfolio manager for more than a decade at various investment firms including CKE Capital, Harbor Watch Capital, SAC Capital and Satellite Asset Management. From 1998-2002, Craig was a portfolio manager at Credit Suisse Asset Management and, prior to that, a buy-side equity research analyst at Lazard. Earlier in his career, Mr. Elkind was a Member in private equity firm Fisher Capital Corp (a KKR affiliate) and a Director of Insurance Ratings at Standard & Poor’s. Mr. Elkind graduated from Colgate University with a BA and holds an MBA from Columbia University; he also holds a Chartered Financial Analyst designation.
Victoria Robinson is the Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel of Fiduciary Technology Partners, LLC, a technology firm committed to enhancing philanthropic giving by improving planned giving operations. Prior to joining FTP in 2008, Ms. Robinson was Assistant General Counsel at Clinton Group Inc, a New York based hedge fund where she was responsible for the establishment of on and offshore investment funds. Previously, Ms. Robinson worked as an attorney for Walkers in the Cayman Islands and Mourants in Jersey, Channel Islands advising hedge fund and private equity clients and their administrators and trustees. She began her career at Slaughter & May in London as an English Solicitor, after graduating from Exeter University and Guildford Law School in the United Kingdom.
Hi, I’m Dr. Cohen! I am a board certified pediatrician who started my career working for 4 years in both a private primary care office in Simsbury, CT and a busy urban pediatric emergency department in Hartford, CT. It was during this time that I realized I was not satisfied with the current model of pediatric care. I didn’t like making my patients wait for me and I often felt that I hadn’t spent enough time with them. It would break my heart to hear that a patient had trouble contacting me because the lines were busy or the answering service hadn’t given me the message. I couldn’t believe that I had to send my office patients to another doctor in the emergency room for staples or IV fluids simply because I didn’t have the time, space or supplies. These were treatments I personally performed on every one of my shifts in that same emergency room. That is why I moved to Greenwich and started Next Generation Pediatrics.
I’m not like some physicians who knew they wanted to become doctors from the time they learned to walk. I went to college at the University of Pennsylvania and acquired a Bachelors of Science in Bioengineering. I then went on to do research on human hearing for two years and plasmid protein evaluation for one year at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. I quickly realized that laboratory dishes were a poor substitute for human interaction. I was lucky to have met several doctors who agreed to take me into the hospital to see what their jobs entailed. It sparked my interest.
I went to Georgetown University where I received a Master’s Degree in Physiology and Biophysics and then to Temple University School of Medicine from where I received my MD. Having always known that whatever I did, it would be related to children, the choice to become a pediatrician was simple and obvious. I completed my internship and residency in pediatrics at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center through the University of Connecticut.
People joke with me that my family is a mini United Nations. My wife, Maud Lemercier, is from France. She is a board certified general surgeon working in Westchester, NY. I have an 14-year-old son named Max who was born here in the United States and a 12-year-old daughter named Gaby who was adopted from Korea at the age of 3 months. Although I learned medicine during my training, it was my family who taught me what it was to be a parent.
My path to developing Next Generation Pediatrics was not straight, but the goal was clear: This is the type of medicine I want to practice. This is the type of medicine I think people deserve. I welcome you to look through the website and learn more about our unique brand of pediatric care and to meet my staff. Each was hand-picked by me and I feel honored to have them. Feel free at any time to give us a call and learn more about us. I look forward to meeting you.
Robert Russo, Esq. is Head of Tax Planning and Strategy at Citadel, a Chicago based hedge fund and financial institution. Mr. Russo has been advocating for his son, who is on the autistic spectrum, for over 9 years. As an attorney, Mr. Russo provided pro bono legal services to the International Republican Institute, a non-partisan group that seeks to advance freedom and democracy. His support involved working with the Chinese government and local academics in shaping tax reform in China.
Prior to joining Citadel, Mr. Russo was a Managing Director at HSBC, where he was Head of Asset Finance for the Americas. He was also a partner at Ernst & Young LLP (in the UK) and an associate at the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld LLP. Mr. Russo received a BS in Business Administration (summa cum laude) and JD from Boston University and earned his LL.M. (Taxation) from NYU.
Lisa Trump currently resides in Greenwich, Connecticut where she and her husband, Fred, have raised their three children. Their youngest child, William, was born with a seizure disorder, subsequently leading to global developmental delays. Lisa has been involved with Abilis, an agency providing services to individuals and families affected by developmental disorders from birth through adult services. Lisa has been involved in various committees at Abilis, as a Board Member from 2009-2011, and as a member of the Advisory Council from 2015-2016. Lisa graduated from Ithaca College with degrees in Health Administration and Psychology.