Staff Spotlight: Kathy Lyons

Kathy Lyons talks with her colleagues at the Moran Center office.

Kathy Lyons, the Moran Center’s Senior Staff Attorney, Special Education Legal Advocacy Project, advocates for parents of students in Evanston school disctricts 65 and 202, helping them to, in her words, “work with the schools(s) to secure appropriate special education services” for their children.

Kathy joined the staff of the James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy (the “Moran Center”) in the fall of 2010, subsequent to serving as Associate General Counsel for the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (IELRB). Although she is the newest staff member at the Moran Center, she has many years of experience in the field of law, particularly in employment law, labor relations, arbitration, and other issues within the education system. In her work at the IELRB, Kathy handled labor relations issues in the State of Illinois public school system. Prior to joining the IELRB in 1996, Kathy practiced labor and employment law at the Chicago law firm of Vedder Price Kaufman and Kammholz. She has also served as Associate Director of Career Resources at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, as well as a management consultant to General Motors in Detroit, Michigan. Kathy attended the University of Michigan for her undergraduate degree, receiving a Bachelors of Business Administration in 1987. She obtained her J.D. in 1994 from Loyola University Chicago School of Law.

In Kathy’s view, the purpose of her job is to provide “assistance navigating the special education system” for parents of students with a need or potential need for special education services. That goal sometimes requires Kathy to take on very active roles, like accompanying parents to Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings and resolving disputes between parents and their children’s schools. When appropriate, however, she takes a more educational role, providing parents with information and legal advice, not direct representation. “What we’re trying to do,” Kathy said, “is educate parents early on so that they’re prepared to advocate for their children throughout their school years”. Kathy emphasizes that special education is all about doing what is appropriate for each individual student in his or her unique situation. “The whole basis of special education law,” she explains, ” is that everyone gets individualized support, (so I) appreciate the differences that my clients have and use those to help establish an IEP that is appropriate for them as an individual”. When the Moran Center cannot provide a service that is necessary and appropriate for one of Kathy’s client, she makes referrals to other service providers, such as local Evanston agencies Y.O.U., PEER Services, and the Center for Independent Futures (CIF), in order to fully support the client and his or her family.

Kathy’s talent for her job is unmistakable. She is dedicated to achieving optimal case outcomes, yet remains patient and diplomatic in dealings with clients, colleagues, and school administrators, alike. This approach is helpful in special education law, where non-adversarial communication and negotiation can produce the best results, and litigation is often a last resort.

Her job does not come without challenges, though. Like most Moran Center clientele, Kathy’s clients face myriad difficulties in their lives, like poverty, substance abuse issues, and problematic family dynamics – challenges that lie beyond school districts’ jurisdictions. Still, she and other Moran Center staff do their best to holistically address clients’ needs internally through counseling, case management, and crisis intervention, in addition to partnering with other social service agencies to coordinate services. When successful, these efforts to help clients to overcome really tough situations can be incredibly rewarding. Kathy talks about successes in crisis interventions as her proudest moments thus far at the Moran Center. “There have been several clients who were in crisis,” she remarks, “and we helped them transition to a place where they could be successful.”

In her life outside of the Moran Center, Kathy has been an adjunct faculty member at Loyola University Chicago School of Law and served as a volunteer mediator for the Chicago-based Center for Conflict Resolution. She has also been active in the Women’s Bar Association, the Chicago Bar Association, and Moms of Multiples, a support group for women with multiple children (twins, triplets, etc.) In fact, she originally heard about the Moran Center (indirectly) because of her association with Moms of Multiples! She met friend and current colleague, Senior Staff Attorney Andrea Lubelfeld, through Moms with Multiples over ten years ago when their children were little – they are both proud parents of twins! Kathy lives in Evanston with her husband and two boys, who are now 12. She enjoys gardening and is a self-professed HGTV addict.