Despite a tight budget, teachers deserve paid leave4 min read

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While discussing the toll that childbearing has on working women, my American Women’s History class learned that CESJDS does not, in fact, provide paid parental leave to faculty or staff. We had just begun to learn about the policies that various organizations offer, and I was shocked and frankly quite upset to learn about JDS’ rule. The lack of paid parental leave did not align with the values that JDS has taught me: family, community and respect.

For context, the federal government mandates 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. Parental leave allows for a new mother’s body to recuperate following birth and ensures that newborn children receive the care they need in their early months.

In discussing the issue with my classmates and parents, I began to understand the rationale behind JDS’ policy. Most workplaces that offer paid parental leave are for-profit organizations, such as law firms and tech companies. Being a non-profit, JDS simply does not have the same financial flexibility. Most of JDS’ staff require substitutes, meaning that the school would have to pay both the substitute teacher and the absent teacher if they provided paid parental leave.

Despite the tight budget, though, giving more financial support to new parents may help JDS compete with other independent schools in the area.

JDS has always upheld the federal leave requirement, but considered adjusting its policy in 2016. Director of Human Resources Lori Belke stated that the school surveyed other independent schools in the D.C. metro area to find that eight of 17 did provide some paid parental leave. Additionally, two of the 17 schools provided paid maternity leave, but not paternity leave. After discussing the survey results, though, Belke and other administrators concluded that JDS simply could not afford any amount of paid parental leave in their budget.

It is no surprise that this policy would take an extreme financial toll on JDS, but the fact that over half of the surveyed schools offer a version of paid parental leave—all of them nonprofit like JDS—makes the school a less attractive work environment for teachers in their childbearing years.

JDS offers many benefits that make it a desirable workplace, according to Head of School Rabbi Mitch Malkus. When considered as a whole, however, I believe it becomes evident that the administration does not greatly support pregnant teachers. For example, JDS offers its faculty benefits, such as ten paid sick days a year and the sick bank, which allows staff who have used up all ten sick days to gain extra, if needed.

According to American Women’s and Jewish History teacher Rachel Bergstein, by definition, a new mother would be all out of paid sick days after they return from maternity leave. In fact, many may run out of sick days even before they have their babies, since many have prenatal appointments leading up to the birth.

“You could deplete your sick leave before you even get to your maternity leave before you even get to returning. And then what happens?” Bergstein said. “You come back from maternity leave with no sick leave. So, any time you take off after that is unpaid.” 

Unpaid parental leave is unappealing to potential teachers because many people need a constant income to support themselves and the family that they are growing, particularly after giving birth to a newborn child. 

Without paid parental leave, teachers may not be able to tend to their own children. 

“We’re here educating children and then the fact [that] we have to pay for it with our own [children] is difficult,” Bergstein said. 

This problem goes beyond JDS. The Guardian surveyed all U.S. states’ departments and boards of education, and 28 of the 41 states that responded said they are experiencing teacher shortages. More generous leave policies could help all schools attract more teachers, who are overwhelmingly female. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 74.8 percent of private school teachers in the 2011-2012 school year were female. Belke said that currently, 79 percent of JDS teachers are female.

 Parents, and specifically mothers, should not feel that having a child will negatively affect their professional life. It’s a Jewish value to be fruitful and reproduce, so JDS staff should feel supported while raising their children. Responsibility to community is yet another value that JDS preaches. “I would love to see JDS taking a stand for a value like supporting working parents and be a leader both in the Jewish and the secular community,” Bergstein said. 

JDS should consider rearranging its budget to make room for paid parental leave, not only to uphold Jewish values, but to make the school a more compelling work environment for women and the faculty as a whole.

This story was featured in the Volume 36, Issue 3 edition of The Lion’s Tale, published on Dec. 20, 2018.

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