One of the most important legal things to look at before you sign a teaching contract is whether or not your school has made accommodations for students with disabilities. Some schools are very slow to change, and wheelchair access may be a thing of the past, but it never hurts to double-check. If you don’t feel comfortable with your school’s policy, you can always ask your parents. Parents may have already researched this matter and will be able to assist you in this area better.
You should also ask if there are any accommodations for your specific disability. For instance, if you have a physical disability, do they require you to use a cane? Do you need assistance with mobility planning and navigating around the school building? Do they have to call you one way or another to let you know you need to go to the restroom? If they do require you to get assistance, is it in writing and clearly defined as such?
Another important thing to ask is if the contract covers your disability. This is all about what the law considers to be “disability discrimination.” If the school treats you differently because you have a disability, is it illegal? As stated before, some schools are slow to modify their policies for disabilities, so if you are concerned about being maltreated, you will want to make sure that you have explored all your options before you sign the contract.
The ESE ADA (educational services employment act) states that a ‘disability’ includes physical, mental, and developmental disabilities and that teachers must make reasonable accommodations for their disabled employees. Similarly, the NJ Transit Workers’ Compensation Act states that any disability of employees discovered during the course of employment shall be made a fact of record, and all relevant documents need to be presented to the employer. Similarly, the NYS Education Department’s Office of Rehabilitation Services, or the OWRS, states that teachers with disabilities must make reasonable accommodations for their disabilities. As you can see from the names, both disability and accommodation are required by federal and state law.
The hiring process is critical, and in many ways, more confusing for those with a disability. One thing to remember is that, depending on the specific nature of your disability, you may not qualify for these benefits under the FHA program (Federal Housing Administration). You must also remember that if you are disabled and are in school at the time of hiring, the school district must allow you to participate in the National School Bus Program. In this way, the district ensures that you will continue to be a useful community member after school.
Before signing a contract with a school district, you must research the contract thoroughly. After signing the contract, you should ask the school district whether there are any additional requirements that they must adhere to. It is not enough to say you understand the disability provision of the contract. The contract must be signed, and you should get copies of it, read it thoroughly, and ask the district questions. With these steps in mind, you can feel confident that you are signing a contract that truly provides you with a true understanding of what is expected from you and your classroom.