PHS staff members discuss PPS’s policy of unpaid maternity leave

graphic: Audrey Zhou

graphic: Audrey Zhou

At some point in their high school careers, many students have teachers who leave due to pregnancy.

When teachers take time off for either their or their partners’ pregnancy, both students and other staff members are affected by their extended leave from school. These absences also affect the teachers themselves, as they do not receive pay when they are on leave.

“We have to bank our sick days. We’re not given any maternity leave that’s paid … and once our sick days are used up, that’s it,” said English teacher Susan Murphy.

According to official PHS policy, teachers may use their accumulated paid sick leave up to 40 days prior to using their period of unpaid leave of absence.

Assistant principal Jessica Baxter feels that not having a paid maternity leave is not an unreasonable or surprising term of the contract.

“I think our contracts have very generous provisions for maternity leave and child-bearing leave. In this country, [paid maternity leave] is not the norm, for schools or for companies, as it is in other countries,” Baxter said.

Murphy also thinks the terms of the contract are rational. “Everyone did their best to work with me,” she said of her own maternity leave. “And I think [PHS’s maternity leave policies] are pretty in sync with the rest of the world.”

The Union Federation of Teachers has implemented the Family Medical Leave Act, which grants pregnant teachers (and their spouses) who have worked at least 1,250 hours in 12 months prior to pregnancy up to 12 weeks of paid leave (using the days in their sick bank) or unpaid leave (if a teacher has no sick time). During this time period, health benefits will continue for the teacher, and his or her job after the leave is guaranteed by the Department of Education. These policies have been in place for many years at PHS and still apply to teachers today.

Steffanie Shoop, a biology teacher, went on maternity leave two years ago and again this year for her wife’s pregnancy.

“I think it’s wonderful that PHS follows [the terms of the FMLA]. You can stay out for an entire year and be protected by the law to come back and still have your job,” Shoop said.

Additionally, teachers are impacted when they return to work after maternity leave. After being absent for a prolonged period of time, Murphy had to balance the life of a teacher with the life of a mother.

“It’s just about learning how to be a mother and a teacher in ways that I hadn’t before. Before I had the kids, I was here every day very late; I was advisor to both yearbook and the Tower at the same time, and all that had to change,” Murphy said. “I had to manage how to get my papers graded at home in different ways than I did before, so the learning curve was more [challenging] for me than anything else.”

Students are also affected when teachers leave for an extended period of time. For example, Shoop has taught multiple biology classes, and her students had to adjust to the new teaching styles and classroom procedures of her substitutes.

“I think any time you are the teacher of a class and you take an extended leave, the expectations for the [substitute] are different,” Shoop said, “and I think it just takes a little bit of an adjustment time to get students back to what [their] expectations were.”