The Westhampton Beach Teachers Association recently filed a lawsuit against the school district on behalf of two immunocompromised gym teachers who were denied permission to switch to fully remote learning arrangements.
Kenneth Miller and Jim Ford had individually emailed Assistant Superintendent for Personnel & Instruction William Fisher with requests to switch to remote learning due to health concerns. Miller’s concern stems from his autoimmune system, which requires him to receive biweekly intravenous immunoglobulin therapy and makes him increasingly vulnerable to COVID-19. While Miller’s request was rejected, Fisher worked with him to arrange a mutually agreeable solution—decreased class size, an assistant physical education teacher, access to a larger teaching space and additional PPE.
Over the summer, Ford was diagnosed with chronic lymphatic leukemia, which, in addition to his Type 2 diabetes, puts him at an increased risk of severe illness from the virus that causes COVID-19. Much like his response to Miller, Fisher denied Ford’s remote learning request and offered to work out other safety accommodations.
Fisher’s responses appear to be in line with the guidelines and definitions found in the district’s school reopening plan FAQ, which state that while “accommodations [for medically vulnerable/high-risk groups] may include additional distancing, the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) or other prevention strategies,” the district defines remote learning as a school-wide scenario “when all students and staff are online and the teacher utilizes technology to provide educational curriculum and instruction…when it is deemed unsafe to be in the traditional school setting.”
Miller, Ford and the WHB Teachers Association are being represented in court by New York State United Teachers, a union of education and health professionals that has been working to increase access to remote learning alternatives for immunocompromised school staff and faculty in New York State.