Maternity leave policies mandate instructors return promptly


 Holding back the seemingly endless tears, Granite Bay High School teacher Jillyan McKinney bid her newborn goodbye and drove herself to work with a heavy heart. That chilly, December morning three months after giving birth, McKinney’s maternity leave had terminated.

  “Leaving behind a three-month old with somebody just hired was the absolute hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” the International Baccalaureate (IB) History of Americas and Social Psychology teacher said. “It’s painful … You are sleep deprived and missing your kids. Then you realize once you get here you have a job to do and you want to be effective (because) kids are depending on you.”

  Returning to work from maternity leave, McKinney described the difficulties of her transition.

  “I feel like being gone for the semester gives you this weird feeling of displacement,” McKinney said. “I feel like I’m still in transition and it’s one of the hardest things that you have to wrestle with as a working parent. You’re trying to be the best of both worlds and … that’s really difficult to do.”

   According to employee guidelines within the Roseville Joint Union High School District, maternity leave is considered a leave of disability.  Prior to the child’s due date, the mother is given a four week long disability leave.

  The postpartum leave is a paid percentage of the employee’s regular salary and lasts from six to eight weeks depending upon whether the birth was natural or a cesarean section.

  If the employee wishes to extend her leave beyond this time period, she neither acquires another year of service nor does she advance in her personal salary schedule.

  “If (I) do not work seventy percent of the days in the year, (I) do not get a year of service,” McKinney said. “Even though I’m here and I’m working, it’s still as if I’m not working enough.”

  Another underlying policy is that during the paid leave, the employee is required to use up the total number of sick days that she has accumulated over her time of service within the district. Therefore, once she returns to work, she has exhausted all of her sick time.

  For McKinney this is a stressful scenario as she received a letter from the district stating that if she is absent at any point through the rest of the year and fails to present a doctor’s note within three days of her absence, disciplinary action will follow.

  “When I started this year I had seventeen days of sick time, and I don’t have any left coming back,” McKinney said. “(I) now have a child at home and two other kids, and most likely someone’s going to get sick in the next couple of months.”

  This raises the discussion of  the righteousness of the denoted policies, not only within the school district, but also at the national level. According to National Public Radio, the U.S. to this day stands as one of the few industrialized nations in the world to not guarantee an extended paid maternity leave to women.

  “I think … the U.S. is incredibly behind the times when it comes to paid maternity leave,” McKinney said. “It is extremely detrimental to women … because it’s what increases a (gender-based) wage gap. It is also detrimental to the family structure. We want to show the rest of the world how progressive this nation is when really we’re not as progressive as we need to be.”

  McKinney described how the term “working mother” itself is insulting because it scrutinizes the idea of motherhood and professional work overlapping with one another.

  “You never hear anybody say working father so … it’s almost (as if ) you’ve already lost the battle with society,” McKinney said. “You’re already feeling guilty enough that you have to leave your child because you need it financially or you just really love your job, (which I do), and you’re good at it. There’s always a stigma that’s attached to (being) a woman.”

  McKinney also stated how the system fails to understand that the productivity level of workers cannot be at its optimum when placed with such social burdens along with pressure in the work environment and the obvious responsibilities that come with caring for a newborn.

  Advanced Placement Spanish teacher Jennifer Hill faced similar problems after returning from her maternity leave last October.

  “(My son) did not start sleeping through the night until (he was) about five months, so when I came back to work I was very sleep deprived,” Hill said. “You’re not going to get the best quality of work out of people if they’re sleep deprived.”

  Hill discussed how she faced physical postnatal problems which could have been reduced significantly if she had had more time off.

  “The best thing for babies is breast milk. I probably would have been able to breastfeed him longer if I hadn’t had to go back to work so early … I got a breast infection called mastitis,” Hill said. “It was the first week of school. I was in pain. I had fevers and it was all because I had to go back too early.”

  Senior Tanvi Mehta’s  IB Biology class last year was left in a muddled state of affairs after the teacher, Heidi McKeen, left for maternity leave and ended up resigning from the position to spend more time with her child.

  “It was very difficult for the IB Bio kids to adjust to (the long-term substitute) because (the substitute) did not have the experience required to teach the class,” Mehta said.

  However, Mehta continued to describe how the blame cannot be placed upon the teacher for simply extending her time of leave.

  “Honestly, I think a woman while pregnant should have as much time as needed to deal with her pregnancy and after (as) it’s really important that she does get time with her child because it’s a main milestone of life,” Mehta said. “If we are pushing these women to come back to work right away I think that’s unfair.”

   Hill recognized how such circumstances directly affected her performance when teaching.

  “I think it was disruptive to the students as well that I wasn’t able to be here the whole time… if I had been able to come back … in January … and just start fresh with a new class, I would have been better rested and a better teacher,” Hill said. “I just felt like a bad teacher because when I’m at work I want to be able to give my 110 percent. I love my job. I don’t want to give anything less than 110 percent.”