Special Needs Child with Autism Denied Use of School Bathroom?

You may have seen reports in the news about a teacher’s union trying to bar a special education student’s use of the only bathroom on the same floor as her classroom, because that bathroom is for “teachers only.”  The School had required that the child would have to go outside, up flights of stairs, and re-enter the building to utilize a student bathroom on an upper floor.  The child has autism, a chronic lung disease, and pulmonary hypertension. When the Mom objected, the school let the child use the teacher bathroom, and the union filed a grievance to stop it.  (You can read the story here:   http://www.post-gazette.com/local/south/2015/03/26/Steel-Valley-board-votes-to-allow-special-needs-student-to-use-faculty-restroom/stories/201503260217)

My first reaction was disgust at the teacher’s union, but on further thought, there appears to be even more significant issues at stake.

For example, the school has apparently placed all special education classes in the basement, two floors below the reach of the school elevators.  All of the other special needs students in the class continue to go outside and up flights of stairs in order to reach a student bathroom.   This lack of bathroom access by itself may be a violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act — which bars discrimination or disparate treatment in schools based upon disability.   Indeed, the decision to place the special education classes in the basement even if there had been a bathroom might also be a violation of anti-discrimination laws.

The story reminded me of a personal experience I had back in high school in the 1970’s (yes I am old), in which I saw a group of kids in the hallway that I had never seen before and asked a teacher about them.  She told me they were students with disabilities who had a class in the basement.  In three years of high school, I had never seen those students before, and I never saw them again.

Instead of casting this issue solely as being about an unfeeling teacher’s union vs a caring school board as the press has done so far — it appears that the school board itself has created and endorsed an illegal situation, of which the union fight is simply an appalling side issue.  If reporters actually care about the treatment of special needs students in this school, they will hopefully continue to investigate and report on the issues impacting ALL of those students.

And if the union pressed it’s grievance in part as some  have suggested as an indirect method of trying to force the Board to address the other issues, those teachers might in future choose a more direct and explicit objection to the mistreatment of the students needing special education, instead of miss-using the plight of a young girl with disabilities who needs their support as some sort of political tool.

Education Lawyer PA NJ


Bookmark the permalink.


  1. What is terrifying here is that the special education teacher signed the petition to deny this student access.

    I am a special education teacher in California and the administration at my school just changed the locks on the restrooms so they automatically lock. Every student now needs to get an adult with a key to unlock the door each time they want to use the bathroom. I explained that many of our students do not have the ability to communicate that they need to go. I feel it is a violation of these students rights. I am still doing research on this subject and trying to get the administration to change back to doors/latches that do not lock. Any help would be appreciated.

    Tim McIntyre

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.