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Boston Teachers Union sues BPS over alleged refusal to let some educators with underlying medical issues work remotely

The Boston Teachers Union today sued BPS over the way it allegedly refused to grant accommodations to teachers and paraprofessionals with serious underlying health conditions that should have been enough to allow them to continue working remotely during the pandemic even after schools re-opened for in-person learning.

Unlike suits brought by unions representing state troopers, prison guards, Boston firefighters, police detectives and police superior officers, the BTU is not arguing its employees have the right to refuse vaccinations unless they get something in return.

Instead, in its complaint, filed in federal court in Boston, the union is arguing that eight specific BPS employees were denied their rights under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act for "reasonable accommodations" based on their health issues - and that the school system did not even comply with their rights to simply have their cases heard.

The union says some of the alleged harassment that flowed from BPS actions started when the entire system was still conducting remote education and vaccines were not yet available and generally followed a similar pattern: The employee would ask for a "reasonable accommodation," hear nothing from BPS for weeks or months, even if they asked for a followup, then suddenly be told their request was denied.

The complaint details the cases of the employees without naming them; something BPS could contest in court. The union did acknowledge that three of their workers got their jobs back and returned to work after they were vaccinated - in one case after contracting Covid-19.

One of the employees was a teacher in a high-risk pregnancy in February, 2021, whom the union says was actively discouraged from seeking to work remotely - and that even aside from Covid-19, she was refused certain accomodations due to the natury of her pregnancy - including access to a private bathroom and periodic extra breaks.

As a result, Employee A returned to in-person work on June 1, 2021. Subsequently, on June 9, 2021, Employee A's medical condition deteriorated to the point where she needed an ambulance to take her from her school to a local hospital.

Another was a paraprofessional with more than 20 years of BPS work who sought remote work in October, 2020 due to her severe asthma. The union says BPS did not answer her request for four months, then told her her principal was the one to deny it, when the principal told her it was central administration that did.

Another paraprofessional sought remote work in January, 2021 due to diabetes and high blood pressure, only to be denied "any good- faith interactive
process." This employee "subsequently contracted COVID-19 and was forced to miss over a month of work, only returning after she was fully vaccinated in
May of 2021."

A 65-year-old teacher with an autoimmune disorder "that often manifested as severe asthma," asked for the ability to work remotely in the summer of 2020, heard nothing, asked again on Oct. 1, again was given no "substantive response," took a leave of absence, for which she was not paid, then finally retired in February, 2021, still without having gotten any 'substantive response from BPS."

A music teacher with type-1 diabetes submitted a remote-work request in September, 2020, never heard back from BPS, was ignored in his requests to get an answer, months went by and then "was forced to return to work on a hybrid schedule" in early 2021.

A phys-ed teacher with a genetic heart defect that almost killed him in 2019 asked for remote work in September, 2020.

His doctor advised him that there was a high probability that COVID-19 would result in his death if he were to contract it. Employee F's doctor advised that he work remotely. He temporarily worked remotely until BPS transitioned to in-person learning, at which time Employee F was given a short notice that he would be required to work in-person. Employee F reminded Defendants of his doctor's advice and the likely fatal consequences, however, Defendants declined to provide further remote work accommodations. As a result, Employee F had to use his accrued personal time until he was fully vaccinated before returning to in-person work.

A teacher with asthma asked for continued remote work in August, 2020, got no answer "for weeks" and then was told she "had to find coverage for her classroom in a manner that would not incur additional expense for Defendants." That became moot when the entire district went to remote learning, but she continued to ask what would happen when in-person classes resumed and, the complaint alleges, never got an answer. "She did not return to in-person work until she was fully vaccinated in April [2021]."

A teacher who uses hearing aids, objected to the "hybrid" teaching model BPS tried, in which many classes consisted of students in school and students at home. Because of her hearing issues, the teacher could either do in-person teaching with her hearing aids, or remotely, with headphones, but not both - with headphones on in her classroom, she would be unable to hear any of her students physically present.

Although Employee H's request for accommodation was initially granted, BPS rescinded it the school day before in-person learning was to recommence at her school. She subsequently filed a complaint at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

The union is seeking back pay plus damages and attorneys' fees.

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Comments

FUCK. THEM.

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Voting closed 38

One more reason why my son will never set foot in a BPS.

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Voting closed 33

Couldn't they at least let remote those who cannot get vaccinated for medical or fertility reasons?

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Voting closed 11

Ah No. Another anti-vax myth.

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Voting closed 64

Multiple studies have found no link between the Covid vaccine and fertility. Please don't spread that myth around. I've linked to some news articles below about it.

(I can also say anecdotally I got both my Covid shots while pregnant with no problems as did all of my friends who had babies this year).

https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/covid-19-vaccination-does-...

https://www.bu.edu/articles/2022/covid-vaccines-infertility/

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/planning-for-pregnanc...

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Voting closed 50

Do you really think it's your place to tell a woman in a high risk pregnancy situation what they should do? What if they don't feel comfortable putting anything in their body during this time? Would you present these studies to them after they've come out of their weekly ultrasound for the 10th week in row?

Note - my wife and I are boosted, and she gave birth during COVID. I'm not anti-vax, I'm just curious if the "Well, actually" game should be played with women who are already scared shitless for the life of their baby and themselves.

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Voting closed 27

I'm 44 years old and went through 2 years of IVF treatment with 2 miscarriages. As an older mom I had a high risk pregnancy, lots of tests. I had my first Covid shot at 10 weeks pregnant and 2nd at 13 weeks pregnant.

In my case, I asked my OB-Gyn her thoughts and she encouraged me to get vaccinated and shared evidence supporting it. I also did my own research, looking at reputable sources. They all said the same thing--that it's safe.

If I was talking to someone with a high risk pregnancy, I would be sympathetic and listen to their concerns and share my own experience. I would also discuss how unvaccinated pregnant women are more likely to experience stillbirth than unvaccinated women (https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7047e1.htm)

Honesty, I don't understand why a parent wouldn't do everything they can to protect their unborn child. My infant has covid antibodies protecting him right now too because I got vaccinated in pregnancy (thankfully, since he won't be able to get vaccinated anytime soon).

So again, yes.

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Voting closed 33

for you. You have to be somewhat respectful that there are women out there who, for one reason or another, do not want the vaccine, especially when they’re high risk.

I know of one woman who was high risk with pre-eclampsia at 21 weeks. She was afraid the vaccine would complicate things further, despite what the CDC says. She just didn’t want it. It was easier to mitigate risk by staying home, etc than stress about having to take the vax.

To say, I know what’s best because I did it and you need to as well isn’t fair.

Glad to hear everything turned out well with you. Hope mom and baby are healthy.

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Voting closed 17

You have to be somewhat respectful that there are women out there who, for one reason or another, do not want the vaccine, especially when they’re high risk.

This comes across as awfully preachy.

To say, I know what’s best because I did it and you need to as well isn’t fair.

There's also the non-insignificant consideration about what's best for public health.

I don't know you and perhaps your concern is sincere, but you have to know how much this sounds just like the bad faith concern trolling that has happened throughout the pandemic, in which those who want to attack public health use people with (real or imagined) health issues as their stalking horse. And, you have to know how little the people so used appreciate it. They (we, I should say) have voices of our own.

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Voting closed 19

So is my wife who gave birth 3 weeks ago. I’m not trying to discourage pregnant women from getting the vaccine, I’m saying the should make the choice that is best FOR THEM.

There isn’t an ounce of bad faith trolling here. Why do people on this site try to make arguments when there isn’t one? The amount of mental gymnastics you have to go through to make an argument from me saying that you should respect the decisions of women with high risk pregnancies when it comes to what they put in their bodies is quite amazing.

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Voting closed 18

There isn’t an ounce of bad faith trolling here. Why do people on this site try to make arguments when there isn’t one?

BECAUSE IT HAPPENS. It happens all the time, using some of the same language and phrasings you're using in your statements. So, I'm simply saying that if that is not what you are doing and that is not your intention, perhaps you might want to consider how to make your signal heard correctly given the very similar-sounding noise that surrounds it. And you really do want to to stay away from any appearance of speaking for people who have health concerns that you do not share. There's been far too much hijacking of those people's voices to support various agendas.

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Voting closed 18

I've been up-front about the fact that my wife (who was pregnant at the time) and I have been vaxxed and boosted since my first comment. I also said I am not anti-vaxx. If you decipher that in any other way other than I'm pro-vaxx, that's squarely on you. You're the one looking for an ulterior motive where there isn't one.

Why would I be vaxxed and encourage others not to be? The thinking on this one truly baffles my mind.

I don't believe we should be lecturing women during pregnancy (high risk or otherwise) about they should put into their bodies. I believe the vaccine is safe for pregnant women, however, I know women who do not believe that and will not/would not get it until they've given birth. I'm not going to look down on them or 'other' them because of it. It's what they feel is best for them and their baby.

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Voting closed 12

I give up. You are stubbornly, insistently not getting the point here.

As long as you claim to speak on behalf of groups of people to which you do not belong, you run the risk of being seen as yet another individual who weaponizes others' situation to advance their own point. Your choice. You do you.

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Voting closed 13

I'm trying my best to respond to your incoherent ramblings, so please enlighten me. You're all over the place with 'bad faith concern trolling' to making sure my 'signal is heard correctly' and 'speaking for people who have health concerns that you do not share'.

If your point is that pregnant women who are vaccine hesitant need to suck it up and get vaccinated for the greater good of public health, just say that.

As long as you claim to speak on behalf of groups of people to which you do not belong, you run the risk of being seen as yet another individual who weaponizes others' situation to advance their own point.

When have I done this?

Again, I BELIEVE VACCINES ARE SAFE FOR PREGNANT WOMEN. IF YOU ARE PREGNANT AND DON'T FEEL COMFORTABLE PUTTING IT IN YOUR BODY, THAT IS YOUR CHOICE AND I RESPECT THAT.

Jesus fucking Christ.

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Voting closed 10

llb likes arguing.

So, don't sweat it too much. It's good to understand both sides of an argument, and understanding both sides of an argument only strengthens your own view of the situation.

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Voting closed 12

Waquoit likes Waqoiting, and is deaf to the nuance that he claims to love, and careless about facts.

(it's lbb, Waquoit, not llb)

Run along now.

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Voting closed 8

But the substance of the comment still stands.

Heck, you'll even argue with someone from Dorchester about whether or not one can get cheese steaks in Dorchester. That's dedication to the art of internet comment arguing.

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Voting closed 8

That sounds a lot like parents who, for one reason or another, don't want to vaccinate their kids for measles. There's a point at which public health is, you know, a public concern.

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Voting closed 7

This isn't about vaccinations, it's about disability accommodations (even a vaccinated person might not want to hang out with a bunch of partially vaccinated kids if they have severe asthma).

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Voting closed 46

None of the 8 employees in this complaint, as far as the legal document indicates, ever declined the opportunity to get vaccinated for any reason. Especially for "fertility reasons" seeing as there are no evidence based reproductive related reasons to not get vaccinated, and there are strong, evidence based reproductive related reasons TO GET VACCINATED against COVID-19.

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/planning-for-pregnanc...

https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/71/wr/mm7101e1.htm

https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7047e1.htm

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34818319/ // https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7047e2.htm?s_cid=mm7047e2_w

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Voting closed 34

It’s different than when everyone was remote, students and teachers. If one of them wants to work from home the school is still going to need someone in the classroom with the kids. Might as well just have that person teach the class.

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Voting closed 22

Yeah, how exactly would a remote gym teacher lead an in-person gym class?

Maybe they should have gone on temporary disability until vaccines were available.

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Voting closed 8

Surely you don't think you can just put a warm body in a classroom and have them "teach the class"? Or that, at this stage of the pandemic, you can just find teachers on any street corner who are willing to teach in person and put up with all the associated bullshit?

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Voting closed 13

and the allegations here all pertain to the prior academic year, 2020-2021, not the current academic year we are in right now?

It is worth remembering that K-12 teachers en masse were not eligible for their first shot until March 11, 2021 and many of us not until a month or two later. I don't see any of these 8 employees claims being linked to not getting vaccinated by choice, but rather vaccines did not even exist in an EUA form at the time some of them requested and were denied remote work accommodations.

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Voting closed 27

How does a phys-ed teacher work remotely?

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Voting closed 15

Who knew Richard Simmons was ahead of his time?

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and yes, there may be jobs where reasonable accommodations cannot be made for specific individuals in specific roles. Such as if you are blind, they do not need to find a reasonable accommodation to allow you to be a school bus driver.

As for physical education teachers, I don't know what they do in Boston, but when I was in high school in a nearby suburb, the phys ed teachers in high school were also the health/wellness/nutrition instructors. And in junior/senior year, each term you got to choose what PE class you wanted to take, some of which were like the traditional dodgeball and climbing the big rope, but other options included more classroom based activities, like a CPR class. Naturally the CPR class still requires a hand-on component, but that's the non-athletic option that is coming to mind.

Besides, don't people pay all sorts of money to have someone on a screen yell at them while they work out in their own home? Isn't that a big business these days?

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Voting closed 12

The teachers not vaccinated?

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Voting closed 6

What a joke. Teachers are now forcing taxpayers to fund a war from both sides. Taxfunded union vs. Taxfunded system
Best result for taxpayers decided in their taxfunded legal system would be the logical result. Teachers being told they are simple public servants and to do as their told by those who call the shots. And shotcallers are looking out for taxpayers as usual far more than teachers ever would if listened to. Some of the undisclosed union members used as example should feel lucky to have jobs and not be put to pasture. Just imagine a union construction guy who had a genetic heart defect so severe it almost killed him just before virus began being expectant of anything. Yet a union teacher of phys-ed none the less expects full accomidations to conform system around his handicap. Or a Fireman demanding his department to accomidate his disabling asthma health crisis.
And let's say system allowed such a ridiculous request. Would it be open ended and allowed for optional return? or mabey until
union deemed covid was over and impossible to catch. Or more logicly would system prove these absentee employees to be no more than useless dependants on system simply waiting for union benefits package to kick in fully by time needed on job? How much could a phys-ed teacher offer from his couch to kids at school?

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Voting closed 6