Opinion

Paid family leave for New York City teachers is long overdue

By Melody Anastasiou |  

November 14, 2017 |  

Mayor Bill de Blasio (center) and United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew (second from right).(Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)

“How much time are you going to take?’

That’s the big question New York City public school teachers ask each other when one of them is pregnant – not her due date or whether she expects a boy or a girl – but how they will navigate the city’s short-sighted family leave policy.

Currently, if you work for the Department of Education you are allotted six weeks of leave for a typical delivery and eight weeks if you deliver via cesarean section.

But all that paid time comes out of your sick bank, meaning a teacher must never get sick herself or take a personal day to tend to a sick family member for at least three straight years in order to save up the 30 days needed to be paid for the entire six weeks. 

If you don’t have the days, you can borrow up to 20 days from the Department of Education – but you will spend years paying them back. 

It is not uncommon to overhear teachers calculating how they are trying to conceive at just the right time, so that their six or eight weeks run right into the summer, just to have more time to bond with their newest family member.

There is an alternative for a segment of city government – six weeks at 100 percent salary for maternity, paternity, adoption or foster care leave, and up to 12 weeks fully paid when combined with existing leave.

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Mayor Bill de Blasio announced this policy in December 2015. But the only workers who have taken advantage of it are managers, who were forced to give up a percentage of a raise and two vacation days – and who ended up paying much more than the benefit costs, according to a study by the city’s Independent Budget Office.

The city has not managed to find a way to provide this benefit to other workers who do not want to have to choose between bonding with a new child and getting a paycheck.

My own children will soon begin their journey in the New York City Department of Education; and wouldn’t any child start off on a stronger foot if they have had adequate time with their parents. 

Instead teachers have been forced to wait for the administration to bargain in good faith with the United Federation of Teachers, all the while draining our sick bank. To date, there has been little progress on this front.

The New York City Department of Education Framework for Great Schools talks about trust and how important it is to develop a school culture where all stakeholders, including teachers, principals and other staff “value and respect each other.”

I teach my students that we need to treat each other with respect and consideration. Given the city’s reluctance to offer paid family leave at a reasonable cost, I do not feel valued by our mayor; I do not feel respected.

Melody Anastasiou is a public elementary special education teacher. 

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