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300 S. Wacker Drive
Suite 3400
Chicago IL 60606
TEL: 312.786.6165
FAX: 312.986.9192
Practice Areas
  • J.D., with honors, Chicago-Kent College of Law, 1974
  • B.A., Louisiana State University, 1971
Bar & Court Admissions
  • Illinois
  • U.S. Supreme Court
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
  • U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois
  • U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois
{ Bio Image }

Patricia J. Whitten


Patti has devoted her legal career to the practice of education law. Her practice involves all aspects of education law, including litigation at all levels of state and federal courts and administrative agencies. She has an in-depth background in constitutional and civil rights, including educational equity and desegregation issues, labor and employment, vendor contracts, tax and finance, board policy and administrative matters, and legislative drafting and interpretation. Her practice in recent years has had a particular focus on special education law, special education cooperative withdrawal issues, educational equity issues, the representation of school districts in charter school proposal matters, and related litigation. Patti has participated in several precedent-setting cases in the federal courts, including authoring friend-of-the-court briefs on behalf of school districts and education-related organizations.

Prior to joining the firm in 1994, she was with Seyfarth Shaw (1990–1994). Patti served as general counsel for the Chicago Board of Education for more than 11 years, and prior to that she spent most of her legal career in the Chicago Board’s Law Department. She was the Chicago Board’s first female and youngest general counsel. During law school, she was a member of the Law Review.

Patti is a member of numerous bar associations (American Bar Association, Illinois State Bar Association, Chicago Bar Association and Women’s Bar Association of Illinois). She is currently serving on the Board of Directors for the National School Boards Association’s Council of School Attorneys (COSA). She is also a founding member of the Illinois Council of School Attorneys (ICSA) and currently serves as chair of its executive board. She is a member of the Illinois Association of School Administrators (IASA) and the Illinois Association of Administrators of Special Education. She has been a member of the Illinois State Bar Association’s Education Law Section Council and the Committee on Law Related Education for the Public, which she chaired.

In 2011, Patti received the Professional Achievement Award from the Chicago-Kent College of Law Alumni Board of Directors. In 2013, she was honored as one of Chicago-Kent’s Alumni of Distinction. In 2017, Patti was named a Leading Lawyer by Law Bulletin Publishing. Since 2007, Patti has been selected annually as one of the Illinois Super Lawyers in the area of Schools and Education Law. She has written numerous articles on school law and is a frequent speaker on the topic at the state and national levels, including at NSBA annual conferences, the Council of Administrators of Special Education (CASE), and the IASB/IASA/IASBO Joint Annual Conferences.

Select Publications & Speaking Engagements

  • Selecting and Working With a School Attorney: A Guide for School Boards, NSBA, April 1997 (contributing author)
  • “Placing Limits on Parental Communications,” Inquiry and Analysis (NSBA Council of School Attorneys publication), November 2008 (author)
  • “Fight or Flight: Whether to Acquiesce or Forge Ahead with Due Process,” Council of Administrators of Special Education, San Diego, November 2009 (presentation)
  • “One Year After the Section 504 Amendments: What Have We Learned?” NSBA Council of School Attorneys Annual Seminar, Chicago, April 2010 (author)
  • Various articles for LRP (LRP Special Ed Connection and IEP Team Trainer) including regarding dealing with uncooperative parents, chronically absent students, and Section 504 issues related to revocation of consent for special education

Representative Experience  click to view

  • Successfully defended a nine-year long class action suit brought against the second largest school district in Illinois, which challenged the district’s 2004 student assignment plan and use of mobile classrooms as discriminatory to minority students and challenged the district’s English Language Learner and other District programs. After a lengthy trial, the district prevailed on all but one minor issue.
  • Co-authored an amici brief in 2013 on behalf of the NSBA, American Association of School Administrators, Horace Mann League, and National Association of Elementary School Principals in the U.S. Supreme Court in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, et al., 133 S.Ct. 1633 (2013), seeking to uphold the Sixth Circuit’s decision that a 2006 amendment to the Michigan State Constitution banning race-based preferences in college admission process, public employment, and public accommodations was unconstitutional and violated the Equal Protection Clause.
  • Represented three Indiana school districts—Hamilton Southeastern Schools, Franklin Township Community Schools and Middlebury Community Schools—in their case against State of Indiana officials alleging the State’s school funding formula was unconstitutional and that their districts were not receiving fair or sufficient funding. The case was successfully resolved in the districts’ favor when the Indiana legislature changed the funding formula.
  • Prevailed on behalf of the school district in precedent-setting case before the Seventh Circuit of Appeals involving the issue of least restrictive environment for special education students. Beth B. v. Lake Bluff School District 65, 211 F.Supp.2d 1020 (N.D. Ill. 2001); aff’d. 282 F.3d 493 (7th Cir. 2002).
  • Serves as a member of the NSBA COSA’s IDEA Working Group, which is developing positions and proposals for the upcoming reauthorization of the federal special education law, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). She also serves on ICSA’s Special Education Liaison Committee that developed and drafted the model procedures in 2009 adopted by most Illinois school districts to comply with revised special education legislation and regulations.
  • Served as co-counsel for amici curiae in the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the NSBA, the American Association of School Administrators and other organizations in support of the school district in Arlington Central School District Board of Education v. Murphy, 548 U.S. 291 (2006), in which the Court ruled that parents who prevail in special education disputes are not entitled to expert witness fees under the IDEA.
  • Served as lead counsel in T.D. v. LaGrange School District No. 102, 222 F.Supp.2d 1062 (N.D. Ill. 2002); aff’d. 349 F.3d 469 (7th Cir. 2003), which established in the Seventh Circuit that expert fees could not be awarded to parents in due process appeals.
  • Prevailed before the Seventh Circuit on behalf of the school district in John M. v. Board of Education of Evanston Township High School District 202,502 F.3d 708 (7th Cir. 2007), involving the issue of full inclusion and upholding the due process decision in favor of the district.
  • Authored amicus curiae briefs before the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of the IASB and IASA.