Rochanda Hiligh-Thomas
Executive Director

Rochanda Hiligh-Thomas joined AJE in 2004.  She has over 21 years of direct legal experience working in the District of Columbia’s legal services community and has diverse experience in the non-profit sector.   As Executive Director, She currently leads the overall strategic operations, program development, and partner development for AJE.  As the former Director of Legal Services and Advocacy and Senior Staff Attorney at AJE, Ms. Hiligh-Thomas developed a robust legal program that provides legal assistance to DC families with special education and school discipline matters.  She represented hundreds of parents and students in school discipline, special education and other education matters.  In addition, she provided extensive training to parents, youth, school staff and other professionals in those same areas.  Before joining AJE, Ms. Hiligh-Thomas was the Assistant Director for Legal Operations at the Neighborhood Legal Services Program (NLSP).  She began her career at NLSP as a Covington & Burling Howard C. Westwood Fellow where spent over seven years providing free legal services to low-income D.C. residents in the areas of public entitlement, education, employment, social security benefits, housing, family, and consumer law, at the administrative, trial court and appellate levels.

Ms. Hiligh-Thomas is a native Washingtonian, the proud mother of four children, one of whom has a disability, and is active in her local community.  She is mayorally appointed parent member of the State Advisory Panel for Special Education and currently serves as co-chair of the D.C. Consortium of Legal Services Providers.  Ms. Hiligh-Thomas obtained her Bachelor’s Degree with honors from Tuskegee University and received her law degree with honors from the District of Columbia School of Law.   In 2017 she received the prestigious Jerrold Scoutt Prize from the DC Bar Foundation and the Advocate for Justice Award from the University of The District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law.


Maria Blaeuer
Director of Programs and Outreach  

Maria Blaeuer joined AJE in 2016 as a staff attorney and currently serves as AJE’s Director of Programs and Outreach.  She has spent most of her legal career in private practice focusing on special education law and the needs of students with disabilities in low-to-moderate income communities.  As part of that practice, she has provided professional development and continuing education about special education to attorneys, teachers and other service providers in the District of Columbia, Virginia, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. In her current role, Ms. Blaeuer oversees the four core components of AJE’s mission: Community Education, Direct Advocacy, Peer to Peer Engagement, and Training and Information.  She works with schools and families to ensure that students receive the best education possible under the law and focuses on establishing more effective and significant training and family engagement efforts for the D.C. special education and disability community.  She brings a unique perspective to this role, having participated in the IEP and special education process as a student with an IEP herself, as a teacher of students with disabilities, as a parent, and as an attorney for students and families.

Ms. Blaeuer obtained her Bachelor’s Degree with honors from Virginia Commonwealth University, earned her law degree from Howard University School of Law and is pursuing a Master’s degree in Education Policy.  She is a native of the Washington D.C. region, and serves as an appointed member of the Montgomery County, MD Commission on Juvenile Justice, and is on the board of a small charter school serving at-risk and over-age and under-credited students.  She is also the proud parent of three children.


Lark Catoe-Emerson
Parent Organizer

Lark Catoe-Emerson joined AJE in 2020. Through many life experiences as a daughter raised by a woman with paranoid schizophrenia; as a mother raising an autistic son and another with ADHD; as well as suffering from depression herself, Ms. Catoe-Emerson has made it her life mission to dispel the stigma that families and society place on people with any mental differences. She has come to realize that most parents with children with special needs become advocates in their own right.  In her current role, Ms. Catoe-Emerson will work to organize parents of children with special needs around the issues that matter most to them and work to find new and innovative ways to help DC parents citywide find their voice and empower themselves and others to fight for the rights of the District’s children who need it the most.  Ms. Catoe-Emerson graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Graphic Design from UDC. She is heavily involved in many DC-based organizations and coalitions such as the National Alliance of  Mental Illness DC chapter, Bread for the City, DC Grassroots Planning Coalition, Fair Budget Coalition, the Poor People’s Campaign, and she will be working with the Under 3 DC Coalition.


Stacey K. Eunnae
Senior Staff Attorney

Stacey Eunnae re-joined AJE in 2018.  She has over 5 years of legal experience assisting families with children with special needs in special education and school discipline matters.  In her role as a Senior Staff Attorney, she is responsible for representing students in disciplinary matters and related special education matters, and providing know your rights training to help build parents’ capacity to self-advocate.  Ms. Eunnae began her career with AJE as a law student volunteer in 2013.  In 2015, Ms. Eunnae pursued her LLM with a concentration in clinical instruction, systems change and special education law in the Juvenile Special Education Clinic at the David A. Clarke School of Law.  She returned to AJE in March 2018 bringing additional experiences and knowledge to serving families.  She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Women Studies from the College of William and Mary, a Juris Doctor from Georgetown School of Law and a Masters of Laws from the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law.


LaJoy Johnson-Law
Parent Support Specialist

LaJoy Johnson-Law joined AJE in 2018 as an Intake Specialist/Receptionist and currently serves as a Parent Support Specialist.  She is the proud mother of a daughter who has special needs and she has been engaged in disability advocacy for over 7 years. Ms. Johnson-Law’s daughter helped her realize her passion for advocacy for families that have special needs children. Through her personal experience, Ms. Johnson-Law has a great wealth of knowledge in navigating DC’s health and education landscapes for children with disabilities.  In her current role, Ms. Johnson-Law utilizes her personal experience in providing direct services and peer-to-peer emotional support to families of children with special needs and special health care needs.  She further assists families in navigating DC’s complex education and special education systems, connects families to the right resources and services, informs parents of relevant AJE training’s to build their knowledge, and builds relationships with various DC agencies to create a system of referral for families to be connected with AJE’s services. Ms. Johnson-Law is heavily involved in ensuring all children in DC with disabilities are heard through her multiple advocacy efforts in the community. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree with Honors in Psychology and a Masters of Public Administration from the University of Phoenix.


Berta  Mata
Bi-Lingual Educational Support Specialist

Berta Mata joined AJE in 2001. She is a mother of four sons, one who has special needs. In her current role, Mrs. Mata provides one-on-one assistance, training, and emotional support to Latino families to ensure their children receive appropriate education and health services. She also leads outreach efforts to immigrant communities to support newly settled families with navigating resources and systems of support. Mrs. Mata has a firm commitment to supporting special needs children and their families. She’s also active in the Latino community including her local church. She enjoys spending time with her family, reading and walking.