Ohio teacher sues school district over child-phobia ‘disability’

A 61-year-old high school teacher has filed a disability discrimination lawsuit against a suburban Cincinnati school district. Her disability? She has a phobia of young children, The Cincinnati Enquirer reports.

Maria C. Waltherr-Willard, a French and Spanish teacher who was employed by the Mariemont school district for 35 years, alleges that the discrimination occurred primarily in 2010, when the district reassigned her from high school to junior high. The suit also claims the district wanted her to resign because of her age.

The alleged disability is pedophobia, an irrational fear or dislike of children. While unusual, it has been officially recognized as anxiety disorder by psychiatrists.

In her complaint, Waltherr-Willard says she has suffered from an extreme fear or anxiety around young children since the 1990s, reports The Enquirer. The suit also claims that school district officials had promised the veteran teacher and her attorney that she wouldn’t be required to teach young children.

Bradford Weber, the attorney for Waltherr-Willard, has submitted numerous documents in the case. Among the documents are explanations by psychiatrists, psychologists and the plaintiff’s medical doctor concerning the phobia. Alleged symptoms the presence of young children cause in Waltherr-Willard include chest pains, vomiting, stress, anxiety, high blood pressure and nightmares.

“It’s a tough phobia,” Dr. Caleb Adler, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Cincinnati, told The Enquirer. “You can’t really get away from (children) when you’re outside.”

“When you’re a teacher, it may not be an issue with older students,” Adler added.

Students at Mariemont Junior High School typically range from 12 to 14 years of age.

Adler, who has never had Waltherr-Willard as a patient, told The Enquirer that specific phobias are frequently treated with a combination of behavioral therapy and anti-anxiety medications.

According to some studies, between roughly four and nine percent of all people have some phobia. Of that estimated group, a very low percentage seeks mental health treatment.