Tess O’Brien-Heinzen is a partner and co-chair of the firm’s School Law Practice Group and provides legal consultation to school districts, charter schools, private schools, and postsecondary institutions in a broad range of areas including Title IX, board governance, student discipline, special education and disability law, open enrollment, policy development, and unlawful harassment and discrimination. She frequently assists her clients with state complaints under pupil nondiscrimination laws and special education, complaints with the Office for Civil Rights, administrative litigation related to special education and Section 504, and litigation in state and federal court. Tess is also a member of the Litigation and Nonprofit Practice Groups.

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Admitted to Practice

  • Wisconsin State Courts
  • United States District Court of the Western District of Wisconsin

Representative Work

  • Successfully defended school districts and technical colleges in OCR complaints involving Title IX, retaliation, disability discrimination, and website accessibility
  • Successfully defended school districts in state IDEA complaints involving seclusion and restraint, child-find, discipline, manifestation determination reviews, and IEP development and implementation
  • Successfully defended school districts in due process complaints
  • Developed and implemented civil rights training including training on Title IX, special education, Section 504, and McKinney Vento, for school district administration and staff with the Wisconsin Association of School Boards
  • Drafted corporate governance documents and 501(c)(3) applications for many Wisconsin charter schools
  • Assisted school districts in successfully mediating issues related to special education and Section 504

Presentations, Publications, & Contributions

  • Author:
    • "Legal Comment: Legal Issues Involved in Student Suicide Prevention”, Wisconsin School News April 2022
    • "Legal Comment: 6 Things Members Need to Know About Students with Food Allergies”, Wisconsin School News, October 2022
    • "Legal Comment: Recent Legal Developments Regarding Transgender Students and Employees”, Wisconsin School News, March 2021
    • "Legal Comment: Compensatory Education Service for Students with Disabilities The continuing consequences of COVID-19”, Wisconsin School News, May 2020
    • "Legal Comment: The New Title IX Regulations”, Wisconsin School News, November 2020
    • "Legal Comment: Website and Educational Technology Accessibility," Wisconsin School News, June/July 2016
    • "Legal Comment: Accommodating Parents and Visitors with Disabilities in Schools," Wisconsin School News, September 2013
    • "Legal Comment: Seclusion and Restraint," Wisconsin School News, March 2013
    • "The ADAAA: Key Changes to Disability Law," Wisconsin Lawyer, May 2012
  • Presenter:
    • Title IX and Transgender Students, Wisconsin Association of School Boards Convention, January 2023
    • Special Education/Pupil Services Leadership/RSN Meetings, Cooperative Educational Services Agency #9, 2022-2023
    • Regional Special Education Network Meetings, Cooperative Educational Services Agency #3, 2022
    • “Title IX Training”, Southwest Wisconsin Technical College, October 2022
    • “Section 504: Legal Updates and Compliance Tips”, Wisconsin Council of Administrators of Special Services, September 2022
    • “Essential Policies For Every Charter School”, Wisconsin Resource Center for Charter Schools, July 2022
    • “Staff Legal Issues Including Title IX”, The School Superintendents Association, January 2022
    • “Rights of Homeless Students”, Wisconsin Association of School Boards, October, 2021
    • “Life as an LEA - Policies and Resources for Independent Charter Schools,” Wisconsin Resource Center for Charter Schools, July, 2021
    • “What Should Be In Your Charter Contract And Your Governance Board Policies?,” Wisconsin Resource Center for Charter Schools, July, 2021
    • “Serving Students with Disabilities: IDEA, Wis. Stat. Chapter 115, and Wisconsin Administrative Code PI 11”, Wisconsin Association of School Boards, July 2021
    • “Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Students Identifying the Legal Issues”, Cooperative Educational Services Agency #3, May 2021
    • “Transgender Students and Staff –Legal Update and Title IX Issues”, Wisconsin Association of School Boards, Inc., November, 2020
    • “What Should Be Included In Your Charter Contract”, Wisconsin Resource Center for Charter Schools, July 2020
    • “It's All About the Students”, Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators, July 2019
    • "Accommodating Disabilities in Higher Education: Requirements Under Section 504 and the ADA," Education Admin Web Advisor, April 2017
    • "Accommodating Disabilities in Higher Education: What to Expect in 2017!" Education Admin Web Advisor, March 2017
    • "Addressing Unemployment Compensation Standards," Wisconsin Technical College System, HR Leadership Program, March 2017
    • "Addressing Transgender Issues For Students and Employees," Wisconsin Technical College System, HR Leadership Program, July 2016
    • "The ADA and Section 504: A Review of Critical Compliance Issues in Higher Education," AHEAD Spring Conference, April 2016
    • "OCR Compliance: Knowing What Triggers an OCR Investigation and How to Respond When it Happens," AHEAD Spring Conference, April 2016
    • "Section 504 Current Compliance Issues," WCASS Winter Conference, February 2016
    • "What's Trending in the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights," CESA 2 - RSN, December 2015
    • "Serving Students with Mental Health Issues," WCASS Spring Conference, May 2016
    • "Nuts and Bolts of Disciplining Students with Disabilities," WCASS, May 2015
    • "Accommodating Students with Concussions," CESA 2, April 2015 (May 2015)
    • "Legal Updates for Higher Education," Wisconsin Technical College System, April 2015, November 2014 & April 2014
    • "K-12 Special Education and Disability Law Requirements," Training Series, March 2014
    • "Nuts and Bolts of the IDEA," Education Admin Web Advisor, January 2014
    • "Establishing the Framework: IDEA, Section 504 and ADA," Education Admin Web Advisor, January 2014
    • "School Actions (or Inaction) that can Result in Legal Entanglements," NBI November 2013
    • "Legal Highlights for Charter School Planning Grantees," DPI, October 2013
    • "Wisconsin's Seclusion and Restraint Law: Implementation and Issues," Boardman Clark School Law Seminar, November 2012
    • "Food Allergies and the Law," Webcast, Wisconsin State Bar Association, October 2010
  • Articles Cited In:
    • "Adult Peanut Allergies Present Workplace Challenges," LIZ NEPORENT, ABC News National, -- abcnews.go.com, April 2013
    • "Lesley U. Decision: A Victory for Allergy," Celiac Access, Allergic Living, March 2013
    • "We must create a national policy to protect and manage food allergic students at school," Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, August 2012
    • "Helping Families Manage Food Allergy in School," Medscape Pediatrics, July 2011

Community Involvement & Board Memberships

  • Wisconsin School Attorneys Association, Past President, Former Member, Board of Directors
  • Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), Former Member, Board of Directors
  • Verona Area Community Theater (VACT), Former Member, Board of Directors
  • Lily's Fund for Epilepsy Research
  • Porchlight, Inc., Former President and Member, Board of Directors
  • Dane County Bar Association, Former Member, Board of Directors
  • Verona Public Library, Former Member, Board of Directors

Professional Memberships

  • Wisconsin School Attorneys Association
  • Wisconsin Council of Administrators of Special Service
  • Wisconsin Association of School Boards
  • Dane County Bar Association
  • National School Board Association, Council of School Attorneys

Education

  • J.D., cum laude, University of Wisconsin Law School, 1993
  • B.A., cum laude, Marquette University, 1990

Experience

  • Judicial Clerk, Late Honorable Justice William A. Bablitch, Wisconsin Supreme Court, 1993-1995

Tess’s Latest Writing & Presentations