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Deaf Teacher Discriminated at Alberta School

Deaf News: Edmonton Public Schools must pay $15,000 for discriminating against an Alberta School for the Deaf teacher who is Deaf, a recent Alberta Human Rights tribunal decision says.

EDMONTON, AB -- Edmonton Journal: The school district breached human rights law in its dealings with teacher Gail Lidkea when her new service dog prompted them to move her to a small, isolated classroom and limit the dog’s movement around the school, human rights tribunal chairman William Johnson ruled last month.

Lidkea, who has profound hearing loss, had been teaching for 17 years when, in 2009, she became eligible for a service dog from the Lions Foundation of Canada, the ruling said. During training in Ontario, she discovered her new Labrador/golden-retriever cross, Widget, was supposed to stay with her most of the time and should not be left alone for more than three hours.

When her co-workers at the Grade 1-12 school found out Widget would come to the building daily, some raised concerns about their allergies and the possibility medically sensitive students in Lidkea’s class might be affected.

On the advice of a district administrator, the school’s principal put Lidkea on paid leave for three weeks while the school decided how to accommodate the dog and people sensitive to its dander.

“I was very anxious because I didn’t understand what was going on,” Lidkea testified at a human rights hearing. “I was upset. I was hurt and disappointed because I was hoping for a smooth transition, which wasn’t happening.”

The principal and district’s then-director of staff relations, meanwhile, were questioning Lidkea’s need for the service dog, according to emails exchanges submitted as exhibits to the commission.

Then-principal Sandra Mason wrote to her superior that although Lidkea’s dog was for safety and security, the school was purposefully designed for Deaf and Hard of Hearing students and staff.

“Am I, as the principal, going to be ‘set up’ for every other staff member to want to explore the same thing? (This may be a stretch but it is a concern for me and I can see this becoming an issue),” Mason wrote.

Without consulting Lidkea, the district assigned the teacher new classes in two small rooms in a remote part of the building. In an email to the principal, Lidkea said she was “heartbroken about losing the students I am so close to.”

The teacher was told to leave her dog in her classroom when she went to school events or made photocopies in the office. One time, she and her dog were told to stand in the doorway during a staff meeting to keep the dog away from an allergic co-worker.

“I feel alienated from my colleagues and the students. I feel anxious and uncertain when it becomes necessary to go to other locations in the building and I must leave Widget behind … I can’t help feel, however, that a certain amount of over-reaction is happening,” Lidkea wrote in a January 2010 letter to the school.

Lidkea continued to teach for two years in rooms she described as cramped, inappropriate for students with behavioural issues and full of safety hazards for students, Widget and herself. The isolation continued nearly two years after the school had ruled out allergies as a concern.

What happened after 2012 is unclear from the document. Lidkea could not be reached for comment.

The human rights tribunal chair said the school district could have found a more appropriate space for Lidkea to work, and failed to properly assess the health effects of the dog on other staff and students in the school.

Edmonton Public Schools did not provide a response to questions by Thursday evening.

Lidkea’s lawyer said he has not received any notice of appeal from the school district.

Johnson’s Oct. 14 ruling awarded Lidkea $15,000, plus interest from December 2009, for “mental anguish, injury to dignity and injury to self-respect.”


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