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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.

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