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East Aurora teacher files discrimination lawsuit against school district

Teacher says district refuses to accommodate her health requests.
Posted at 4:06 PM, Mar 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-10 18:45:33-05

EAST AURORA, N.Y. (WKBW) — A middle school teacher in East Aurora has filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court alleging discrimination against the East Aurora Central School District.

Julie Rizzo has taught Spanish at East Aurora Middle School since 1998.

“My enthusiasm for what I do is very tangible,” she said.

For the last year, Rizzo says she’s hardy been out of her house due to a serious immune deficiency disorder. She says she was diagnosed seven years ago at the University of Chicago.

“When I was diagnosed, I was told there are about 3,000 people in the world who have this, and no one quite presents like I do,” she said.

Rizzo says to supplement her immune system she receives infusions which take six hours every three weeks. The infusions boost what little immune system she has.

Because of COVID-19 and the risk it poses to her health, doctors say she should not risk being in the classroom teaching. Rizzo says when East Aurora went back to a hybrid remote teaching model in the fall, she requested special accommodations because of her disability.

“I can’t take that risk,” she said. “My doctor told me you will not be the canary in the coal mine.”

She says her doctors suspect she will be extremely high risk and possibly die if she catches COVID-19.

Rizzo says she has no problem teaching Spanish to her students remotely from her home, but the District said according to court paperwork it has no “need” for anyone to work from home.

“She was repeatedly denied by the district,” said her attorney Matt Miller.

Court paperwork shows Rizzo was offered the option to teach remotely from a classroom at the Parkdale Elementary School instead of the Middle School, and she says that defeats the purpose entirely as she should not be breathing shared air or using shared facilities.

According to that paperwork, in September the District sent Rizzo a letter saying,

“Being present on campus continues to be an essential function of your job. The needs of the District require its educators to be on campus. The District does not have a need for any teachers to teach remotely from their homes, nor does it have any who are doing so.”

She says she was then placed on unpaid leave for the rest of the school year. She says she is ready, willing and able to do the job she has done for the past two decades, but because of the risk COVID poses to her health, it must be done from her home as it was last year.

We have contacted the East Aurora School District for a statement and have not heard back.

Attorney’s for Rizzo are requesting she be put back to her paid position immediately being able to teach from home.