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Judge blocks School Board action eliminating cosmetic surgery rider

A State Supreme Court judge has placed a temporary restraining order on the Buffalo School Board for attempting to eliminate the controversial cosmetic surgery rider from the teacher contract without negotiating it with the union.

The ruling came after the Buffalo Teachers Federation on Wednesday filed a lawsuit challenging the board’s decision to force the contract change, arguing that it violates state laws that dictate rules for collective bargaining.

The union’s lawsuit argues that some teachers use the benefit to pay for certain surgeries, including some that are preventative, that are not covered under their regular insurance. Those services include facial peels to prevent skin cancer and treatment of mobility-limiting or disfiguring scarring caused by accidents. It also covers treatment of female breast deformation and protruding ears on children.

“It is my understanding, based on my communications with unit members who obtain services under the cosmetic surgery provision and with a physician who provides such services, that the cosmetic surgery provision covers a range of services not otherwise covered under the traditional plan,” union president Philip Rumore wrote in his affidavit.

The board voted earlier this month to eliminate the $5 million cosmetic surgery rider, a proposal brought to the table by members of the outgoing board majority. The board’s intention was to redirect those dollars to programs that have a direct impact on students.

The decision, however, is unlikely to stand, regardless of what happens in court. New board members – who were backed by the teachers union – take office on Friday and are expected to shift the power balance on the board. Some already have said they intend to bring the issue back up for a vote and reverse the decision.

The cosmetic rider has long been a controversial part of the Buffalo teacher contract, drawing national media coverage from outlets including CNN and the Atlantic. Critics say that teachers should not be able to receive cosmetic procedures, such as breast implants and facials, on the public dime.

Even Rumore has said he is willing the give up the benefit.

The board’s decision to force a change, however, may alter that. Teachers have been upset by the board’s attempt to change a part of their contract without negotiating it. Some have come forward with stories of how they have used the surgery to fix deformation, burns and scarring.

As part of its case, the union gave examples of cases where there would have been irreparable harm to teachers or their families if they did not have access to the coverage.

That included a one-year-old who was severely burned, and whose standard medical coverage did not include treatment to prevent scarring.

Other teachers who have a family history of skin cancer use the rider to receive laser or chemical treatments.