Raleigh, NC: The Johnston County Board of Education has modified a policy that prevented people with disabilities from working in the schools. The policy change was prompted by a lawsuit brought by Disability Rights NC on behalf of a former teaching assistant. The policy required all teaching assistants, custodians, and food service workers to be licensed to drive a school bus. Because individuals with certain disabilities cannot meet the requirements to obtain a commercial driver’s license, the policy precluded those individuals from working in the Johnston County Schools.

The Board entered into a settlement agreement with Patricia Bordonaro, a former teaching assistant who filed a federal lawsuit to challenge the school’s policy and the termination of her employment. Under the new policy, the Superintendent will examine the number of bus drivers needed by the school system, in relation to the number of routes required, and provide exemptions to the policy to the extent that he can assure there are a sufficient number of drivers to transport students. In addition, the Board agreed to update its website and materials to make it clear that exemptions to the policy are available. These exemptions will allow people with disabilities to request exemptions so they can work in various positions in the schools. The Board also will pay Mrs. Bordonaro the approximate equivalent of two years’ salary.

Mrs. Bordonaro was terminated in June 2011 when vision loss prevented her from driving a bus. In her four years of employment with the Johnston County Schools, Mrs. Bordonaro drove a bus on only two occasions. Prior to her termination, Mrs. Bordonaro worked with students with disabilities and was an active organizer of the Circle of Friends Club at Clayton High School. She sought to change the policy because of the discriminatory impact it had on people with disabilities. “We train students in special education to work,” she said, “but the school system doesn’t allow them to.” Mrs. Bordonaro recounted that, not only was she affected by this policy, but so was one of her students. “She really wanted to work in the high school cafeteria, and because of the policy, she would never have been able to.”

Mrs. Bordonaro is pleased to have paved the way for other individuals with disabilities to have more opportunities to work and be productive. Executive Director of Disability Rights NC, Vicki Smith, added: “School systems are often the largest employer in a county. For our communities to be the most productive and inclusive, it’s imperative that they act as model employers and comply with federal equal opportunity laws.”