Wednesday, September 19, 2012

When it is not in your job description...

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.


David OTR/L said...

Sorry for your bad experience with your union in New York, that is very unfortunate. Possible instead of blaming the union for that particular situation you should blame the people involved.
Anyone who would let a child sit in their own filth because of the “it’s not in my job description” excuse is a poor human being. It’s not my job description to let a little old lady have my seat on the bus, but I do.
I agree there are good and bad things about unions and like lawyers, they make everything more complicated but before you go off and make general negative statements about things, get some inside knowledge first.
Working as an itinerate therapist I have traveled to many schools and seen the politics / favoritism that happens there. People are taken advantage of by their principles because of their lack of education, job status, etc. I know of one person who was a student’s personal aide and was (illegally) taken from that job to be the “school toileter” because other staff, whose job it was to toilet their own students, refused to do it. The principle was the one who allowed this to happen.
The union is a necessary evil and the only way in this corrupt city that people on the ground level (teachers and therapists) can defend themselves and have a choice in making changes that benefit children. As OT and PT clinicians, we have no limit on the number of students we can have on our caseload, frequently we have to work in hallways and have no access to basic supplies; it took union involvement to get $100 for supplies and that has only been in the last 3 years.

Regarding your comments on charter schools, do you know anything about them?
Despite having private funding as well as receiving public funding , not having to follow the same rules that public schools have to follow, being able to discipline students in ways public schools cannot, being able to fine students for chewing gum ($5) or making parents pay ($140) for behavior classes for their disruptive children (what happened to FAPE?), “counseling” students out of their school for underperformance (at which point they come to public schools), not accepting special ed. students ( the lowest students I have seen are barely LD); they still continue produce students who do marginally better than regular public school kids.
Also the salary for teachers is 20k (the price of a cup of coffee here), and on average the teachers stay for 3 years before going to another school district or leaving the profession all together.

Even though I disagree with your opinion regarding unions and charter schools, I whole heartedly agree with you regarding SI. You are the only person who seems to take a realistic, objective, and common sense view on that.
Keep up the good work

Christopher Alterio said...

Another solution to consider: if an employer makes you work in a hallway, places no limits on caseload size, or does not provide materials to complete your job... then just quit and find a better job! If enough people refused to abide these conditions then the systems would change, or even better they might collapse and be replaced with something more functional. Thanks for your comments, David - I expect that we do agree that these are very complex issues and there really are no quick and easy answers.

Barbara, OT @therextras said...

Chris, did you say whether this child is on an IEP?

David, your defense of unions does not negate the morally corrupt relationship created by injecting another authority over employees that disregards the children meant to be served by those employees. Employee dependency on group think for benefits sans job performance is fomented, a form of learned helplessness and codependency by union involvement in the public education system.

Chris, you are more than polite in your response. Thank you for exposing this example, representative of many, of a clear conflict of interest in the educational 'system'.