LAWRENCE TOWNSHIP — A Lawrence Township school employee says she was forced to resign because the district would not make accommodations over her COVID-19 health concerns.
At least six teachers across the country have died of the coronavirus since the school year began.
Camille Freeman-Walker was one of the first staff members within MSD of Lawrence Township to test positive for the coronavirus back in March, immediately after schools shut down.
Already having been exposed, plus being the primary caregiver for her father with stage 4 cancer, she requested to work from home.
But she was denied.
“I want to work. I do. I want to work,” Freeman-Walker said. “I need to work to be able to provide for my four children and my husband in my household. We need this. We are now without health insurance in the worst possible case.”
As a classroom assistant at Mary Castle Early Learning Center, Freeman-Walker supports the lead teacher and works more closely, one-on-one, with students who need extra attention.
“I work a lot with students who have behavior and IEP’s and who need additional help with social-emotional behaviors,” she said.
Two weeks after schools shut down on March 13, she tested positive for the coronavirus.
“It was terrible,” Freeman-Walker said. “It was absolutely terrible. I still have pains. I still have difficulty breathing.”
So given the choice of virtual learning for her four children, who also attend schools within the district, when they returned this fall, she decided to keep them home.
“We knew that that would be the best thing for our family to keep them safe,” Freeman-Walker said. “To keep them from transmitting.”
But that didn’t mean she could also work from home.
She requested to work virtually but was denied by the school.
She then tried going through the Family and Medical Leave Act, but that was unsuccessful.
The district told her the only way she could keep her job was if she worked in-person and that no other telework was available at this time.
This left her with the gut-wrenching decision to resign, especially as a product of Lawrence Township schools herself.
“It is always been the purpose of going back into my community and giving back to the community that put so much into me. That’s what I wanted to do,” Freeman-Walker said. “But now I was faced with a position where it was my health and my children and my family’s safety or insurance.”
Now unemployed, she’s hoping by telling her story, schools will see this and choose to be more accommodating, understanding we are all suffering through a global pandemic.
“I know there are others out there who are struggling that are faced with these similar decisions,” Freeman-Walker said.
A district spokesperson released the following statement to WRTV:
While we cannot speak to individual personnel matters, the Human Resources Department is pleased to have been able to accommodate those who have reached out to their supervisors about individual circumstances impacting their professional responsibilities. Accommodations made vary, and may include medical leave or possible alternative assignment. Given the scope of positions within the district, not all are eligible for remote work. Additionally, all classified employees district-wide received their full wages from the date of the shutdown through the conclusion of the 2020 school year.