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When it is not in your job description...

Posted Sep 19 2012 12:00am
Well I am sleeping better tonight knowing that the Chicago teacher strike is over!!!  All of the really important things like making sure raises stayed in place and health care contributions stayed low got the immediate attention they required.  Muscling out charter schools got a lot of good attention also and of course that is good because we don't want to have competition against a failed school system.  The less important issues like teacher evaluation systems got pushed off into the future.

I don't even live near Chicago and I have no skin in that game directly but I just wanted to express how happy I was that those Union efforts will continue to work in favor of students - just like I saw them working in my own community recently.

You see there was a four year old child who has a physical disability - doesn't even matter what the disability is exactly so I will leave that detail out - and he was happy and excited to start his school year.  All summer long his COTA worked with him and the family to teach him how to use the toilet.  He made great progress and by the end of the summer he was able to access the toilet in his home independently.  He was READY for school!!

The COTA contacted the district and let them know what they would need to do so that their facilities would be accessible for the child.  Sadly, on the first day of school those accommodations were not in place.  The little four year old child who has a physical disability was not able to use the toilet in school.  The facilities are different, he was not confident with his new skills, just going to school for the first time is a big challenge itself, and so he was not able to use the bathroom.  So he had an 'accident' and had to go to the nurse so she could help him with clean up.

Well the COTA quickly addressed the situation and was meeting with the classroom teacher, the classroom aides, the nurse, and even the school principal to solve the problem immediately.  There was a lot of lip service about 'doing whatever was necessary to make the environment accessible' and 'doing whatever was necessary to make accommodations'  but there was a little bit of a disconnect between the words and the actions.

I jumped into the situation to see if I could help out the COTA.  The classroom staff stated that they would not be able to help a four year old who has a physical disability in the bathroom.  It wasn't in their job descriptions, they told us.  In fact, it was in the job descriptions of a personal care aide, and not a teacher or a teacher aide.  Therefore, Union rules prohibited them from performing the essential job functions of the personal care aide position.

"Even if that means that a four year old child urinates in his clothing - just because you don't want to provide a supporting hand as he practices getting onto and off of an unfamiliar toilet?  Even if he will only need that help for a little while until he gets his confidence up in this new setting?" I asked.

The deadpan response was, "Our Union Steward told us not to do it, so we won't.  It is not our job.  We can help adjust his pants if they are askew when he comes out of the bathroom but that is all."

 I will stipulate that job descriptions are specific for a purpose and I appreciate the sentiment of following rules because generically that is a good thing to do.  However, this child only has a very minor need for temporary support to make sure he is safe getting on and off the toilet until he translates his skill into the new context.  Besides, he is just four years old and all he needs is a supporting hand.

Sometimes when you encounter really nonsensical systemic barriers you might think that you have finally reached the pinnacle of human stupidity and there is just no more to be seen - but I am always disappointed that there seems to be another mountain of stupidity on the horizon.

So I fired off a letter to the CSE advising them that the child was at increased risk of injury if no one was willing to help him with toileting.  I also suggested that there was a need for more OT consultation to make sure that the environment would be safe and accessible.  That got their attention apparently, because in lightning quick fashion a meeting was scheduled.  In advance of the meeting, I have been informed that the system will now provide a personal care aide because that personal care aide is somehow uniquely qualified to hold the hand of a four year old child who needs a little assistance to get onto the toilet.

I will make the assumption that the personal care aide position pays Union dues.  I don't know that factually, but it seems like a fair assumption.

Anyway, this all makes me really happy that the Chicago teacher strike is over, because goodness knows we need these teachers and their Union back in the classroom as soon as possible.

I anticipate that this kind of blog post can generate some hate mail, so I will state in advance that if someone wants me to be sensitive to Union concerns ever again, they will first need to explain to me why it is OK to let a four year old child urinate in his clothing because helping is not in your job description.
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