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Baltimore County educator unions file legal challenge against school district over medical accommodations

Unions representing Baltimore County teachers and support personnel are asking a court for a temporary restraining order and injunction against the public school board, alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Teachers Association of Baltimore County and the Education Support Personnel of Baltimore County filed the complaint Feb. 26 in Baltimore County Circuit Court. The unions contend school system leaders instructed staff to return to school buildings amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but refused to consider telework requests from those with underlying medical conditions.

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A representative for Baltimore County schools declined to comment on the pending litigation. An attorney representing the unions also declined to comment.

County school buildings were shuttered for nearly a year after the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in the state last March. The county’s public school system has reopened more slowly than others in the region, with some staff returning to buildings in recent weeks and most expected to report by March 31. Monday, the district reopened for in-person classes for students in prekindergarten through second grade and those attending day schools for special education.

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In the complaint, the unions claim that school officials, in the rush to open, failed to process hundreds of applications for ADA accommodations, particularly for employees with underlying medical conditions that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says could place them at serious risk of illness should they contract COVID-19.

School officials went on to penalize employees by directing those with unprocessed applications to return to work or use accrued sick leave and risk possible disciplinary consequences, according to the complaint. The unions say those actions violated their existing labor agreements with the school system.

Court records also show the unions filed a complaint Feb. 21 with the state Inspector General for Education, requesting an investigation into alleged violations of the ADA and Maryland’s Fair Employment Practices Act.

Alyssa Corrigan is 33 weeks pregnant and extremely anxious about spending time in the Towson elementary school where she works.

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The special educator said she experienced a traumatic stillbirth after contracting a virus at a prior job in another school system. As a result, Corrigan’s doctor has recommended for her current pregnancy that she remain at home until fully vaccinated for COVID-19.

The Parkville resident applied several weeks ago for a temporary ADA accommodation through the school system, but hasn’t received any information about the status of her request despite several follow-up emails. And as a newer employee to the school system, she doesn’t have enough sick time accrued to take off of work.

Last week, Corrigan was required to report back to the school. Families of the students she works with have chosen to remain online, but Corrigan said she hasn’t been given the same choice.

“There really aren’t a whole lot of options for people in this purgatory,” Corrigan said.

Lately, the educator has had recurring nightmares in which she is exposed to a deadly virus and is immediately whisked into an emergency c-section.

Her family members are nervous too. Corrigan’s father-in-law has purchased N95 masks and hand sanitizer for her to use while on school premises. And some family members have offered to support her financially if she decides to leave her job.

Corrigan hasn’t seriously considered quitting her position with Baltimore County public schools. Working with her students is too important, she said.

Still, Corrigan wishes the school system would demonstrate more compassion and understanding for situations like hers.

“I feel like the worry is taking away from my job,” Corrigan said. “I’m worried about staying safe and that’s taking more of my mental stamina away from my job. That’s not right.”

The unions collectively represent about 10,000 teachers, counselors, nurses and education support personnel in Baltimore County.

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