by Walter Brasch
Ten-year-old Kaitlyn Montgomery, a fourth grade student at Park Elementary School in Munhall, Pa., now has access to that school’s restrooms.
Like most schools, Park Elementary has separate restrooms for male and female staff and faculty, and separate restrooms for boys and girls.
The staff and faculty restrooms are on the first floor. The restrooms for boys and girls are on the second floor.
But Kaitlyn is a special needs student who has a severe pulmonary hypertension and chronic lung disease. It prevents her from being able to climb stairs easily.
Enter the Steel Valley Education Association and the school administration. They have a contract that requires “lavatory facilities exclusively for employees.”
Somewhere are rules, regulations, and reasons why schools are the only place where children and adults of the same sex have separate restrooms.
Nevertheless, the Administration decided to allow Kaitlyn to use the first floor women’s restroom.
And so, the union filed a grievance against the school management to keep the girl out of staff restrooms. This grievance included a petition from 18 female teachers who complained about the arrangement.
Can’t have exceptions. You let one child with mobility problems enter your restroom, and pretty soon there might be another one with mobility problems who wants the same privilege. Gotta enforce that contract. Can’t go down that slippery slope of full integration. Next thing you know, students might want to color outside the lines. Or ask tough questions. Or challenge authority. And then you’d have chaos and anarchism in education.
For its part, when the School Board was planning the school, it could have demanded an elevator that connected both floors. It could have demanded the architect to include boys and girls restrooms on both floors. But, it didn’t.
Apparently, all elementary school children—and and staff and faculty—should be able to climb stairs. The heck with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)!
The union, for its part, said that it filed the grievance because it was “seeking a solution to an issue that will provide a better outcome for all parties involved,” and challenged the schools in the district to meet the ADA requirements.
The administration said it was trying to find a solution. The school had a small restroom in the first floor Special Education area, but eliminated it because it needed the space to put in a ventilation unit.
Apparently, until the union raised the issue, albeit a self-serving one, the ADA was considered just to be a set of “suggestions” and not federal requirements.
The School Board, without comment, unanimously rejected the union’s grievance.
The union could have appealed. This would have brought in a mediator or arbitrator. It could have led to the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board looking at the contract and determining if there was a violation. It could have led to expensive court action. But it didn’t.
The union withdrew its grievance, having made its point that the administration was in violation of the ADA and, thus, reaffirmed its right to have separate but equal restrooms.
Sometimes, it’s logical for all parties to agree to make an exception to a contract, and for both parties to work together to seek a reasonable solution, one that protects the rights of all with disabilities—students, staff, and faculty.
This is one of those times.
[Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist and the author of 20 books. His latest book is the critically-acclaimed Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting With Disaster.]