Photo of Candace Hawkins
Senior Consultant
United States

Candace began her career working for a residential facility that served young adults with serious emotional disability. She left the field of social work to become a lawyer with the hope of advocating more effectively on behalf of children and adults with disabilities. As a public interest lawyer, Candace went on to represent low-income Minnesotans in the areas of disability, healthcare, employment, housing, and elder law, specializing in federal government benefit programs and access to healthcare. During this time, she also participated in a juvenile law project that provided representation to students in educational disputes, including suspension, expulsion, and special education.

In 2010, Candace returned to her home state of Colorado and joined the Colorado Department of Education’s (CDE) Office of Special Education as dispute resolution and policy specialist where her primary role was within the state complaint system. In addition to conducting state complaint investigations, she has designed and provided regular training and technical assistance on special education law and policy to Department staff, partnering agencies, and Administrative Law Judges from the Office of Administrative Courts. In partnership with PEAK Parent Center, Candace initiated a project to offer early dispute resolution activities to Colorado stakeholders that resulted in CDE sponsored regional trainings in IEP Facilitation. During this time, Candace also served as CDE’s representative to the Colorado Restorative Justice Council and the Colorado Juvenile Parole Board.

In the fall of 2016, Candace left the CDE to join CADRE as a policy analyst. While at CADRE, Candace analyzed trends and system performance in special education dispute resolution and provided intensive and targeted technical assistance to constituents, including state education agencies and federally funded parent centers, on dispute resolution policy and IDEA regulatory requirements. Candace also developed materials and presented information related to dispute resolution system performance and improvement. And, with CADRE colleague Diana Cruz, she designed an innovative training on the application of restorative approaches to special education dispute resolution.

Candace left CADRE in the fall of 2017 to be closer to her family in Colorado and rejoined the CDE as a dispute resolution and policy specialist where she again works primarily within the state complaint and general supervision system to promote improved outcomes for students with disabilities in Colorado. In the Spring of 2018, Candace became the CDE's dispute resolution supervisor, where she oversaw the coordination of Part B dispute resolution services for the state. In 2019, Candace became the Director of General Supervision and Monitoring, where she oversaw the dispute and alternative dispute resolution system, IDEA data collection and reporting, parent engagement, and results driven accountability system.

In February of 2023, Candace left the Colorado Department of Education to join Disability Law Colorado, the state’s designated protection and advocacy system where she served as the Investigations and Monitoring Attorney Team Leader.

Candace returned to the Colorado Department of Education in June of 2023 where she serves as the Director of Special Education Guidance.

Candace’s primary professional interest is in special education dispute resolution system performance, particularly the relationship between early dispute resolution and IDEA’s procedural safeguards, and the potential of the state complaint process to effect systemic change to benefit all students with disabilities, including youth who may not have the parental advocacy and support presumed by the IDEA.