MFT members know that caring for themselves and their families is essential to being an effective educator. Paid family leave ensures that educators don't have the additional worry of financial hardship in conjunction with a family illness or new member of the family.
Paid Family Leave
Long Term Illness Leads to Financial Instability
In October of 2016 my spouse was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. A few days later the doctor told us to “put our affairs in order” because we did not know if my husband was going to make it through the surgery. He did make it through the 7 hours of surgery but then I had to decide if I was going to put him in a nursing home/recovery setting or take care of him myself. He needed around the clock care. He was being fed through a feeding tube, needed help with getting to the bathroom, physical therapy, and medication help. After looking into the cost of a care facility it seemed that the damage to our financial state would be less if I took a leave. I will not even mention the medical bills that we are still playing. That is another story. I had to end my leave before Cobra would start because that would have really been devastating. I returned to work part time so I would not have to pay for health insurance while being out for my medical leave. We depleted our savings account and found organizations to buy food, gas for the car, money for utilities and even pay our house payment. I had strangers supporting us. The amazing staff at Folwell organized a food train that kept myself and my family fed. If I would have had a paid leave we would not have lost financial stability. I am still wondering if I should file for bankruptcy. My husband is still battling cancer and is now on disability. There is no way we could ever recover our financial stability. We sold what we could but the cost of care is a weekly concern. Each scan, each chemo treatment, each radiation treatment. And now it is getting harder for him to get his prescriptions filled not because of his doctor but because of HealthPartners. It is highly likely that he will not live for many more years, but each week is more stressful lately because of Health Partners is making medical decisions.
Life- threatening allergies make work difficult
This year has been very difficult for me due to worksite exposure. In the fall they were painting at Howe and the paint of gasses methylchlorisothiazinilone, which I am allergic to. I communicated back and forth with safety and security about the painting schedule, air exchange, etc.. One issue was that said the air exchange in our school should have been good (exchanging air 7x/hour) but in reality this system was only running from 9am-3pm on school days. After my communication they did increase the amount this was running (controlled from Davis). In addition I hav=d to work at an alternate site for 2 weeks plus to avoid having a serious allergic reaction- they planned to paint the cafeteria during a break, but didn’t and came back on a different schedule without notification, making me flee the building. The painting scheduled for Hiawatha was scheduled for this Summer due to my concerns, but they have come in and spot painted from place to place without any notification causing rashes and airway swelling. They came in to replace the sound systems in our buildings and used spray paint, and I found out by breaking out in hives and then asking questions. This winter at Hiawatha they began roofing with tar. I was unsure of my reaction to this (no known allergy) until 1 hour after the tar smell filled my office (there is a clean air vent that blows directly from the roof into my face). I contacted safety and security and they covered my vent (I’ll send a pic tomorrow, it’s a joke). Have had to leave about 6 times this winter due to the tar and I have vomited on my way out, as well as had airway swelling. Today my lips have been tingling and my bottom lip swelled so bad it split. I have been taking antihistamines like candy. I have began seeing a new allergist. I have had to show off my epic pen to my coworkers. I feel bad leaving the students in a building I can’t breathe in, but a remote alive nurse is better then a present dead nurse.
Babies Don't Follow Plans, so Family Leave is Needed!
My name is Arika Quintanilla, mother of two wonderful boys, an almost 3 year old and an 8 year old. I am a fifth grade teacher at Emerson, where I have been working 8 years My husband and I started trying to conceive in late January 2015, with the hope of having a baby in December so that I would have an extra two weeks home with the little one (winter break). I ended up getting pregnant in March 2015 but had a miscarriage at 8 weeks, on Memorial day. I was heartbroken. I found on on the 4th of July 2015 that I was pregnant again. This time I didn't tell anyone, with the fear of jinxing it. After my first ultrasound on August 18, I couldn't contain my excitement and shared the news with with some coworkers- I was 14 weeks pregnant and due on Leap Day 2016. I investigated how to apply for maternity leave and tried to figure out how many weeks off I would have. I quickly realized that the amount of paid days I could take off to have my baby and recover from childbirth was only six weeks. 30 days. After five years of teaching and barely missing any days of school because of illness, I only had 30 unused paid sick days. I was worried- 6 weeks?!? That's the amount of recommend time to heal after a vaginal delivery. It is even longer with a cesarean section. What happens if I had to have a C-section? I don't have an enough days saved up! These are some thoughts that raced through my head. A few days later, I realized spring break would be in the middle of my maternity leave. I was so excited- SEVEN weeks of paid maternity leave. Bonus! I applied for my leave to start February 29, my due date. I scheduled all my prenatal visits for after school so that I didn't need to leave work early. I would work 8-11 hours (I taught classes after school twice a week for extra income) then rush to my 5pm prenatal appointments. I worked right up to my due date, incredibly glad that I didn't go into early labor or have any complications that would have required me to miss work. However, my due date came and went, leaving me thinking, "I could be working now... my paid sick days are passing quickly and I feel fine." On March 7, eight days after my due date, eight days into my 36 paid days of leave, I went to the doctor to check on the baby boy. They ran some tests and determined the baby was not in any distress, even though I was 8 days late and showing no signs of labor. I asked to be induced the following day only because I had six weeks of leave left and knew that I would need time to recover, learn to breastfeed, bond with my child, and rest. To be super clear- I was induced only because I couldn’t financially afford to let my labor start naturally. My son, Marcelo, was born 2 days later on March 9, weighing 9 lbs 6oz. The labor went very well and I recovered quickly so we were able to go home from the hospital on March 10th, 36 hours after Marcelo was born. I quickly started to stress about having enough breastmilk stored to feed him when I return to work. I would like to provide him with only breastmilk for the first six months but I am likely going to have to supplement with formula because I am having trouble pumping. I wish I would have had more time to nurse him before my leave ended. I would like to have another child. But in order to have a mere 6 weeks of paid leave, I figure that I need to work another 5 years. That is how long it took me to save up six weeks of sick days before having Marcelo. I believe that mothers should have paid maternity leave. We need time to heal from childbirth. We need time to rest. We need time to bond with our newborns. I went back to work on April 19. My son was only 5 weeks and 6 days old. It is not right that I had to leave him when he is so tiny but, hey, I am a teacher and I could only afford 6 weeks of maternity leave.
Basic necessities are missing
I have a gorgeous media center to work in, however since it is at the end of the building, the cinder-block walls are exposed on 3 sides to the Minnesota winter. When the outside temperature is below 10 degrees or so, the air temp in the media center frequently falls to the upper 50s which is just too cold to be in all day. Conversely, in the heat of June, the AC often doesn't cool it off and it's been measured in the 80s or even 90s on very hot days. It's absolutely miserable and affects my lessons as kids are complaining (and I have to be in it all day). In the extreme heat, it is actually cooler outside, however the windows have been permanently sealed closed so we are unable to get any fresh air.
No space for nursing mother
As a nursing mother, I had to use the designated space at school to pump, which was a former women's bathroom (which is against the law). The bathroom was still being used by staff and students on a very regular basis. I had to worry about people walking in on me, and a co-worker was interrupted and asked by another adult to hurry up because they had to use the restroom. The clinic used that bathroom for students who needed to pee into cups for STI testing, and because the space was not a designated bathroom engineers did not regularly clean it, nor was it filled with soap or paper towels. This filthy bathroom is where I had to express milk to feed my newborn baby.
Engineers go above and beyond to meet basic needs
F or the first 5 years in MPS I worked full time. I decided to move to part time (.6) for the 2015-2016 school year after the birth of my first child, and have been .5 for the past 2 years at Windom. I had my second child last spring. I am writing because district paid family leave (maternity and paternity) is very important! Before my first child was born, I was informed that we needed to use sick days for maternity leave. Because I had been working full time and didn't take many days off over those first 5 years in MPS, I had accrued about 6 weeks worth of sick days to use for maternity leave. Only 6 weeks paid leave. So I was forced to take the rest of the leave (6 more weeks) unpaid. Although this created a great hardship for my family, we decided that we would try to make it work because it's what is best for baby, mother and father (and ultimately society!). The birth was very expensive (we met the deductible easily), and the couple thousand dollars we had saved up before the baby was born went to medical bills. I was left with no income for weeks and couldn't pay bills, and as a result this created more debt for me, along with tons of stress at a time when we were already sleep deprived and stressed from learning to care for a baby. When I had my second child, because I had used all my sick time for my first, and then I had been working part time, I had very little sick time accrued for this maternity leave. This time, I again was forced to go without a paycheck for a large part of my leave, and then I just came back to work after 10 weeks because our family couldn't pay bills without my paycheck. My daughter was born last spring and I still continue to go deeper into credit card debt because I just can't seem to catch up. I got a second job last June, when my daughter was 3 months old, to try to earn money during the summer. However, I quit after only a few weeks because it turned out to be too challenging to juggle nursing a newborn and working a job where I couldn't really pump, and also finding childcare for my kids that didn't negate the paycheck I was trying to get. My partner is a full-time auto-body technician. These days we live barely paycheck to paycheck and have zero savings for a rainy day. I struggle with the idea of working full time again, only to pay more for childcare. It seems that our family will not be able to save money for several years, and it is a constant stress. My hope is that, although we are done having children, the district can implement a fair paid family leave so that other families don't struggle this way, and women are treated respectfully for having a baby, instead of feeling punished. Also, I hope that teacher salaries can increase to a point where people who have families don't have to live paycheck to paycheck and worry all the time.
7 Years of Sick Time = Maternity Leave?!
I saved 7 years of sick time for maternity leave. Luckily for me and my partner, family planning worked perfectly and it looked like I would be able to cover my entire maternity leave with my sick time (8 paid weeks) - but my baby was born 3 weeks early. Now, 2 years later, I am pregnant with my second child. I will get just over 3 weeks of paid maternity leave after not using my sick time for 2 years. The rest of the time will be 100% unpaid.
Lack of Family Leave Leads to Stress on Family
The first year I worked at MPS, I had a baby. I remember thinking it was challenging in my condition (end of pregnancy) to reach out to, interview, and secure a long-term substitute to for my classes. Additionally, I was informed that I would have to secure my own insurance policy while on maternity leave (FMLA). This was a massively stressful time for my family--especially since I didn’t have a considerable sick bank from which to pull. Upon return to school, I selected “family” policy. Yes, this technically was my error, but at this vulnerable time (a new mother with very little knowledge of insurance policies) I signed up for the “family” policy. I was paying around $800 for my child and me (and I was set to do so for a calendar year). I wish someone would have met with me and show face-to-face care. How are our teacher supposed to be experts on leave and insurance policies? I felt disempowered and trapped at a time when I believed I needed support and care. I feel there is an undue burden on new mothers. In a largely female-dominated profession, I was deflated and disempowered. I know that this stressor impacted my mental health at school, and I hope that these policies can change to show new mothers their true value to the teaching profession.
A construction zone is NOT a classroom
A few years ago, our school was under construction. Many rooms (including mine) were demolished as they went about the redesign. Since I didn’t have a room, I was teaching in the ski room. The room was always slippery as athletes wax their skis there. I had fallen, three, maybe four times since the beginning of the year and just considered it part of my day. But one day was different. I was teaching poetry, specifically poetic vocabulary. I turned from the board, where I had just written the definition for Assonance, and a second later, I was on my butt, in front of the students. We all laughed, but as I got up, I realized that my dress was actually wet. The floor was filling with water! It was seeping in from the hallway. I called the main office and I was informed that a pipe had burst. “Whatever you do, the voice said, “Do Not let the kids into the hallway!” The ski room opened up into the courtyard, so as the classroom continued to flood, I directed the students to go outside. It was fall, so the weather wasn’t too bad. My 38 students brought their notebooks and pens into the courtyard, where they sat down in a circle around me. This actually sounds beautiful, right? It wasn’t. Because in the courtyard was a huge crane, and on the crane were workers who were using tools that were chopping off parts of the building. The noise was horrifying. It was like being in a dentist’s office with the volume magnified 10 times. I tried to shout over the noise. “Onomatopoia!” I said. “The word is onomatopoeia!” “What?” I student yelled. “I can’t hear anything!” “ONOMATOPOIA!” I screamed. I used what I imagined to be my football coach voice, even though I had never palyed, much less coached the game. “How do you spell it?” a young boy hollered. I tried to yell the spelling, but obviously, that was not going to work. I borrowed someone’s notebook, and wrote in in big letters: ONOMATOPOIA! I am shorter than all of my students so I balanced(like a tightrope walker) on the skinny top part of a metal bench and moved the notebook around until all 38 of my students could see how to spell the vocab word. “Ah,” I thought. “This is working.” That’s when the brick fell. From the hands of one of the workers standing in the crane. It fell right behind me. Could it have fallen on a student? Yes. Could it have fallen on my head? Yes. I moved my students as far away from the crane as possible, until they were clumped into the corner opposite my room. Then I rushed back to the ski room, and stepped inside. The engineer was shopvacing the room. “Came from the bathroom across the way,” he said. “That’s what you smell. Sewage. Should have been in here 20 minutes ago,” he said. I looked at my stained dress. It had cost me $14 at a thrift store. My 38 students and I stayed in the courtyard until the room was ready. Then they moved on to their next class to learn. “Every child, college ready,” was the phrase of the month that year. I laughed as I read it on the top of the website of Minneapolis Public Schools. How about, “Every child safe, every day?” Or every teacher safe, every day? Or “who’s going to pay for my feces stained dress? I’m broke.”