NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — “I’m in pain everyday. I have MS and I come to school for my kids and I come to school for me. It helps me. And to come to school and not have access like everybody else,” said New Haven teacher, Paula Langlois.
Langlois has multiple sclerosis. The five-year veteran of Fair Haven Middle School gets around in a wheelchair. She, like all the teachers, has a key card to get in the building. Most teachers walk up these steps and use a key card to enter the building.
The problem is, the card doesn’t work on the handicapped accessible entrance that Langlois needs to use. “We all have badges and you hold your badge and you swipe your badge and it opens the door for you. I don’t have that ability because I don’t have that on my door,” she said.
Langlois sent News 8 a video showing her waiting, sometimes in bad weather, to get inside. She rings a buzzer until someone lets her in the school. Langlois added, “I get here anywhere between 7-7:30 in the morning, sometimes a little later depending on traffic, and I have to sit outside and I have to wait and wait and wait, rain, snow, wind and freezing cold.”
Langlois tells News 8 that she was told to use the service entrance in the back of the school. She says it’s not handicap accessible and it’s a safety concern. Langlois added, “They told me to use the freight entrance, the food service entrance and I said I’m not freight and it’s too far away from the elevator.
Amanda M. DeMatteis with Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Fitzgerald & Pirrotti, P.C. said, “This is really egregious as it gets. This is a woman who simply cannot get into her place of employment and that should be a right disabled or not that we all have when we go to work.”
The teacher says after getting nowhere with New Haven Public schools, her lawyer filed a charge of discrimination with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities and with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. “We received a response back that our request for a reasonable accommodation would be taken under advisement,” DeMatteis said.
In a statement, President of the New Haven Federation of Teachers David Cicarella says, “I have been to the building several times to meet with Paula, the principal, and a representative from the NHPS Human Resources Dept. While they have been attentive, we are now incredibly frustrated as our request is merely to continue the existing accommodation with one simple addition, specifically a card swipe automatic entrance keypad.”
After repeated requests for comment, New Haven Public Schools released this statement to News 8, “We believe that we have met our reasonable obligations, providing not one but two possible entries – and one with keypad access that is used by many other staff who park on that side of the building. We understand that the staff person in question wants keycard access at her preferred entry, as opposed to buzzer access, but we have to balance cost and convenience. As we try to secure resources to upgrade our facilities, including Fair Haven, we will re-assess our ability to add key pad access to the requested door.”
Langlois added, “It effects all of my joints, my limbs, my legs, my arms but it doesn’t affect my mind. Until it affects my mind I’m going to continue to teach and I should be able to and I should be able to go into my school every single day.”