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The Education Law Division of Hollingsworth & Zivitz, PC. Ensuring your child’s success in school and in life.

Our Education Law Team


Catherine M. Michael

Partner

Catherine M. MichaelCatherine M. Michael is the head of our Education Law Division. She is licensed and practices throughout the state of Indiana, Texas, and Michigan. She represents students and their families in a variety of education and personal injury matters including Special Education Due Process, Section 504 matters, expulsion, disciplinary issues, personal injury of children including injury, sexual abuse, molestation, and rape cases both in and out of school environments, private school issues and discipline as well as other civil rights and disability claims experienced by students. She possesses extensive knowledge regarding special education due process, teacher and student discipline and dismissal matters, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), personal injury of children in schools, and other civil rights matters.

Catherine has been featured hundreds of times in both the national and local media. She is a frequent guest on syndicated radio and television shows for her education law expertise. Her nearly two decade career in education has focused on ensuring that the needs of children in schools are met. She has represented school shooting victims, children abused in school, and hundreds of special needs children who families needed a voice.

Catherine’s dedication and unique legal prowess has led to her inclusion in the Super Lawyers® Rising Stars℠ list by Indianapolis Monthly and Law & Politics Magazine for more than a decade. She also received The Honorable Viola J. Taliaferro Award by the Indiana State Bar Association for her admirable work in addressing the unmet legal needs of children.

To speak with Catherine just call 317-569-2200 or email her at cmichael@hzlegal.com

Education

  • Robert McKinney School of Law, J.D.
  • Western Washington University, B.A. Political Science
  • Professional Membership

Sonja D. Kerr

Attorney

Sonja D. Kerr is a skilled special education attorney with over thirty years of practice at all levels, due process, federal and state courts, and the appellate courts. Ms. Kerr has litigated individual cases as well as class actions.

A graduate of Indiana University Law School-IUPUI, Ms. Kerr learned about disabilities firsthand early in her life as the daughter of a deaf parent and a sibling of a sister with epilepsy. This sparked her interest in disabilities and pursuit of a bachelor’s in psychology (Northwest Nazarene University, Idaho) and a master’s in psychology from Purdue University. Ms. Kerr has had the pleasure of representing students with a wide variety of disabilities, including autism, language-impairments, Tourette’s Syndrome, hearing impairment/deafness, learning disabilities/dyslexia, blind/visually impaired, ADHD/ADD, and children with emotional disturbance and children with a variety of physical disabilities.

Ms. Kerr opened the first private practice representing children with disabilities in the State of Minnesota in 1989. For over fifteen years, she brought numerous cases on behalf of families. This included one of the first cases sustaining the right of a virtually non-verbal child to have critically necessary assistive technology. Anoka Hennepin v. Pachl (D. Minnesota, 2002). Another significant victory was Hale v. Poplar Bluff (8th Circuit, 2002) requiring a school district to continue to provide services to a medically-fragile child in his home as a requirement of the IDEA’s “stay-put” provision. Ms. Kerr also successfully protected a special education student from being expelled. J.B. v. ISD No. 191, (D. Minnesota 1995).

Ms. Kerr has brought various cases against the state educational agency. In Indiana, she successfully represented parents in due process hearings and also challenged the state’s due process system in federal court. H.H. v. Indiana Board of Special Education Appeals, (Indiana 2008); M.O. v. Duneland (Indiana 2009). Ms. Kerr obtained a federal court order sanctioning the attorney general of Nebraska for claiming that the state was immune from suit under the IDEA. Edwards v. Fremont (Nebraska 1994). And in Mississippi, Ms. Kerr sued to keep the state in a case involving the denial of a free appropriate public education to a child with dyslexia. Hill v. Laurel School District (Mississippi 1995).

From 2005-2009, Ms. Kerr practiced in Alaska, where she brought the first due process hearing in “Bush” Alaska and represented families throughout the state. As a result of her work there, the Ninth Circuit in Anchorage v. M.P., (9th Circuit, 2012) rejected the notion that parents can be blamed for a child’s denial of a free appropriate program of education. She also successfully obtained ABA services for a child with cerebral palsy and autism. Anchorage School District v. D.S. (Alaska, 2009).

Ms. Kerr was previously Director of Disability Rights for the prestigious Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia from 2009-2016. While there, Ms. Kerr brought various class actions to protect the rights of children. This included a class action on behalf of children with autism to protect them from being moved from school to school without proper notice and IEP meetings. P.V. v. School District of Philadelphia (E.D. Pennsylvania, 2013). Another case insisted on the right of children to have individually tailored extended school year services. Ms. Kerr was counsel in a class to protect the rights of students with disabilities in an impoverished district when its school district was about to close for financial reasons. Ms. Kerr has litigated cases such as requiring that a high school student with severe dyslexia receive necessary Orton-Gillingham instruction at his high school I.W. v. School District of Philadelphia (Hearing Decision, Philadelphia). Another important case was the right of a child to have 1:1 nursing assistance in her public school. School District of Philadelphia v. Drummond, (E.D. Pennsylvania, 2013).While Ms. Kerr believes strongly that children with disabilities need special education instruction and related services, she has also been involved in litigation to protect the rights of Limited English Proficient parents through the process, and regarding the misidentification and disproportionate placement of non-Caucasian students into special education.

Most recently, Ms. Kerr has had the pleasure to represent families in Texas since 2016. In just two years, she has successfully brought and prevailed in some eight due process hearings, as well as resolving even more cases by effective settlements. In a recent case, a federal court upheld a hearing officer’s determination that a school district wrongly denied a student eligibility for special education services. Lisa M. v. Leander Independent School District (Western District, Texas, 2018).

Ms. Kerr was honored to serve as the first chair of the nationwide Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) and continues to be involved with COPAA. She has been a review editor for Wrightslaw and written various articles on special education. Ms. Kerr is committed to providing information and training to all persons involved in the IEP process, but especially parents, their attorneys and advocates. She is a frequent writer and lecturer on special education issues.

Ms. Kerr is admitted to practice in Indiana, Texas, Alaska and Pennsylvania, and is non-practicing in Minnesota. She is also admitted to various federal and circuit courts and the United States Supreme Court. She lives in Austin, Texas with her wife and trusty dog, Allie.


Sarah Chapman

Education Paralegal

Sarah ChapmanA graduate of Indiana University-Bloomington, Sarah Chapman earned her Bachelor's Degree of Applied Health Science in Human Development and Family Studies with minors in Public Health, Psychology, and Sociology. In addition to her impressive educational career, Sarah has also moved forward as a valuable member of the Hollingsworth & Zivitz team as a paralegal.

In her role at Hollingsworth & Zivitz, Ms. Chapman assists with education & juvenile law matters, such as:

  • General assistance with paperwork and organization
  • Facilitation of processes
  • Help in the preparation of trials or negotiations
  • Assist in drafting legal documents
  • Assisting with client support and service

Ms. Sarah Chapman has helped our Carmel lawyers and our firm's clients with education and juvenile law matters. Her knowledge, compassion, thoroughness, and real-world experience has made her an invaluable member of our team at Hollingsworth & Zivitz.

At Hollingsworth & Zivitz, we pride ourselves on being incredibly active and present in the local community. Since our inception, we have partnered with well-known, non-profit organizations, including Habitat for Humanity and Race for Riley. Ms. Chapman proactively gives back to the Carmel and Indianapolis community by staying active in these and multiple other charity organizations.

In her free time, Sarah loves spending time in Fort Lauderdale, Chicago, and traveling with her family and friends. Additionally, she enjoys going boating and lying by the pool during the summertime. Her favorite sports teams include the Indianapolis Colts, IU Men's Basketball, Indiana Pacers, and the Chicago Cubs.


Diane White

Education Client Relations

Diane WhiteAfter growing up on the east coast, Diane White decided to call Carmel home, and we are happy to have her as our Director of Human Resources and Client Relations at Hollingsworth & Zivitz. She enjoys giving back to the community, volunteering with organizations such as Horizon House, Third Phase, and Second Helpings. In her spare time, Diane happily spends her time with her three children, reading, exercising, and enjoys photography and the arts. If you ask, she will describe her perfect day as sitting on the beach with her children while reading a great book.

At Hollingsworth & Zivitz, Diane maintains and enhances the organization's human resources by planning, implementing, and evaluating employee relations and human resources policies, programs, and practices. She assists our family law attorneys with the following legal matters: CHINS (children in need of services), family law appeals, contempt actions, post-decree enforcement, modifications, spousal support, child support and custody, divorce, legal separation, restraining orders, education orders, protective orders, parenting time (also known as visitation rights), adoptions (contested and uncontested), guardianships, emancipation, domestic partnership disputes, and more.


Steve Elmlinger

Education Liaison

Email: selmlinger@hzlegal.com

Steve ElmlingerSteve Elmlinger plays an indispensable role on our staff and as legal support to our Education Team at Hollingsworth & Zivitz. He has worked in the family law practice since 1999 and enjoys helping make a difference in the lives of families throughout Central Indiana. His level of knowledge and attention to detail has proven to be instrumental to our firm in a large number of legal matters.

For seven years, he worked in the Consumer Affairs Office at the Columbia House Company in Terre Haute Indiana. Steve graduated from Indiana State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in English. While a college student, he earned All-American honors playing football. Now a loyal Indianapolis Colts fan, he once played in the NFL as a wide receiver with the Chicago Bears.

In his free time, he enjoys golfing, lifting weights, spinning, jogging, traveling, cooking, skiing, playing Scrabble, and spending time with his family. He and his wife, son, daughter, and two dogs call Avon home.

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