Whatever happened to that teacher whose disability was a fear of children?

It’s understandable that the case of The Teacher Who Was Afraid of Children got a lot of attention and generated considerable ridicule. In fact, however, Ms. Maria Waltherr-Willard was not afraid of all children—just those under the age of 12.  Thus she was a successful teacher at the high school in Mariemont City, Ohio.

In 1997, after Ms. Willard had taught at the high school for 20 years, she was asked to move to the elementary.  Ms. Willard promptly produced a letter from a psychologist, who had diagnosed the teacher with “pedophobia.” The district backed off on the reassignment, and Ms. Willard taught for another 12 years at the high school.

For the 2010-11 school year, the superintendent reassigned Ms. Willard to middle school. According to the court, “Willard did not object to the new assignment, and later expressed ‘enthusiasm’ for teaching middle schoolers.”

But it didn’t last.  Six months into the year, Ms. Willard declared herself “underutilized” at the middle school and asked for a transfer to the high school. Noting that there were no vacancies at the high school, the superintendent turned her down, while offering the customary promise to “keep your request on file.”

Shortly thereafter, Ms. Willard resigned.  Then she sued.

The 6th Circuit affirmed a decision in favor of the school district.  However, there is very little discussion about the anomaly of a public school teacher with “pedophobia.” The court simply noted that there was no opening for her at the high school, and thus accommodating her disability would have been “unreasonable.” The court noted that the Americans with Disabilities Act “requires an employer to accommodate a disabled employee, but it does not require unreasonable accommodations.”

Notice: the district did not blow off the unusual diagnosis. It took it seriously and accommodated Ms. Willard when it could by backing off on the proposed transfer to the elementary.  The district re-assigned her to the middle school with no objection, and turned down her request to go back to the high school because it had a good reason to do so.

The case is Waltherr-Willard v. Mariemont City Schools, decided by the 6th Circuit on February 11, 2015.  We found it at 601 Fed. App’x. 385 and at 2015 WL 542944.