December 22, 2010

Teacher placement and the ADA

Teacher placement and the ADA
Arbitration between the United Educators of San Francisco and San Francisco [California] Unified School District, Arbitrator William E. Riker

In 1997 a hearing impaired California teacher, certified to teach deaf students at the high school level and regular students from kindergarten through eighth grade, was laid off when her position was eliminated. Her name was placed on a preferred list.

Assigned to clerical work, in April 1998, the teacher asked to be assigned to teach kindergarten or first-grade. She also asked for a reasonable accommodation, including an interpreter to translate her signed conversation. The district rejected her request and continued employing her in a clerical capacity.

Ultimately, the teacher filed a grievance contending that the district violated the collective bargaining agreement by not placing her in a classroom and that the district discriminated against her because of her disability. She also filed a disability discrimination complaint under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Arbitrator William E. Riker denied her grievance, ruling that the school district was not required to place a hearing-disabled teacher in a kindergarten or first-grade classroom unless she is able to perform the essential functions of the position.

Riker’s rationale: The ADA requires fair treatment of qualified individuals with disabilities, but it does not require the employer to change the essential functions of a job to accommodate a disabled employee who cannot perform them.

Riker ruled that kindergarten and first grade teachers must be able to carefully listen to children’s speech and help them to develop and mimic speech patterns and thought processes.

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