What will my school district do with me?
August 3, 2012 6:59 PM   Subscribe

I am a technology specialist for a large public school district. In my school, I am a "prep" teacher. Classes come to me, the teacher leaves, and I have them for 50 minutes. Last year, for various reasons, I developed a phobia of being alone in charge of 25-30 kids by myself. I kept seeing danger to them and being unable to help. I took a leave from the middle of April through the end of the year. I tried to get an ELL position; that's my other license. ELL is small group and/or co-teaching and I would be just fine returning to it.

I was placed back in tech for this fall. I know I will not be able to do it. I talked to my doctor; he has been treating me all summer for this (along with a therapist). He wrote a return to work with the following restrictions, "She may not work alone with more than 15 students at one time due to phobic reaction. She may teach in a small group or coteaching environment." Will I qualify for a reasonable accommodation as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act? Will I be given an ELL or other small group position? Will they maintain that I am unable to fulfill my current job duties and fire me? Is there anything else I can do? I have emailed the union about this and gotten no definitive answer from them. Same with the district HR people. They are sending me some ADA paperwork, so it continues, but I feel very alone right now and would like some insights. Thanks.
posted by Kazimirovna to Education (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Talk to a local employment lawyer.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:07 PM on August 3, 2012

May I suggest a "pull-out teacher" position? In my school district, we have "resource teachers" that focus on specific students that are struggling academically. This sounds like something you would excel at, especially if you can provide support to English Language Learners.

Another possibility, although perhaps a long-shot, is providing home tutoring support to students who are, usually for medical reasons, unable to attend regular sessions (on a 504 Plan, if that applies to your state).

From my experience, school districts will try to accommodate anyone that provides a positive benefit to the district. Subject, as always, to the constraints of budget, which is the biggest imponderable.

(I'm not sure what you meant by "placed back in tech." Tech Reps, in my district, are the "power users" that assist teachers, office staff and admin with instructional technology issues. There is relatively little interaction with students, but the work can be demanding at times. It's not a step down, if you think so, but more of a step sideways, which might be what you need.)
posted by SPrintF at 10:36 PM on August 3, 2012

Look up the nearest "Independent Living Center" - a network of government supported nonprofits that support people with disabilities. They might be able to give you some advice on how to deal with the school on ADA issues. they might also be able to give you some emotional support - it may that the reason it is so hard to get answers is that no one actually knows what the answer will be until it gets reviewed but the district.

Also, an ILC might be able to help you connect with a lawyer that could give you some advice and maybe write a letter explaining why what you want is both reasonable and legally required (assuming it is). Maybe give the district a nudge in the right direction before they commit to an official position?

Also, in another direction, can you think of any reasonable accommodation that might allow you to do the job that is currently assigned to you? A student aide? A way of summoning instant help if something happens? Maybe your therapist could help you brainstorms some creative options that would allow you to tolerate the panic until you learn how to master it.
posted by metahawk at 11:36 PM on August 3, 2012

I'm not a lawyer, but it seems likely that the reason you're not getting clear answers is because your situation is genuinely ambiguous. There may be a reasonable argument you can't perform an essential job function. There may be a reasonable argument that your impairment doesn't substantially limit one or more "major life activities." Those are some terms that might be used to say the ADA doesn't apply, but you could of course argue the contrary.

This seems like the most answerable question: Will they maintain that I am unable to fulfill my current job duties and fire me?

I doubt HR is going to come after you for saying you've suffered this in the past and thus request an accommodation. It's pretty much their job to listen to this stuff and try to avoid lawsuits. If the answer is no, I suspect they'll wait for you to actually fail at performing your duties before making a disciplinary move (and even then, it might not be to fire you right away, depending on what goes down). From an external POV, your self-description doesn't make it sound like you're a threat to safety yourself. I don't really know how schools handle this, but perhaps a vice-principal would be keeping an eye on you for a while.

In other words, I doubt they're going to suddenly advance your timeline for lawyering up. But since that's just a few weeks at most, why aren't you lawyering up? Look into free legal clinics or hotlines. Ask lawyer friends or friends of friends if they know anyone who'd represent you in this discussion on the cheap. If HR calls you in for a meeting about this, having a lawyer with you says a lot. And if HR ultimately says "no," you're not going to get around it by saying pretty please.

If for some reason you're not really going to lawyer up, no matter what they do, then start looking for another job, not because it's inevitable but because it's a reasonable alternative to suffering your phobia and/or the disciplinary process.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:02 AM on August 4, 2012

I would love to go back to the teacher-trainer job I used to have! As SprintF talks about, but those jobs don't much exist anymore due to budget cuts. I don't think I will have much input into where they put me.
posted by Kazimirovna at 10:15 AM on August 4, 2012

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