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Autistic Professor Denied Accommodation Over Mask

September 15, 2021

When a professor asked if she could teach online this term because it’s difficult for her, as an autistic person, to wear a mask, Edgewood College in Wisconsin said that she could teach behind Plexiglas instead and then canceled her courses and stopped paying her when she said no to that idea, according to Susan Rustick, who taught English at Edgewood for 30 years, reportedly said that the situation has been “deeply painful.” Edgewood says Rustick hasn’t been terminated but that she’s been relieved of all obligations and her contract is “null and void.” Rustick says this status makes it unclear whether she still has health insurance or a right to appeal as a tenured professor.

Ed Taylor, a college spokesperson, told that some other professors had been granted COVID-19 teaching accommodations deemed “acceptable” to both Edgewood and those employees. Rustick said that she can’t wear a mask for more than 30 minutes, as her sensory sensitivity makes her feel “like I am suffocating.” She added, “It’s not uncomfortable; it’s intolerable.” She said one proposed solution was that she teach remotely with a teaching assistant in class to help students, but that the college rejected this idea as an “undue burden.” Rustick’s doctors documented her diagnosis and recommended accommodation.

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