Having a baby is described as one of the most joyful experiences in life, yet the Iowa City Community School District maternity leave policy may be exactly the opposite of wonderful. While the district has made it possible for teachers to take maternity leave, some members of the West community believe the district’s maternity policies are unjust.
The United States is the only developed country without a federal maternity leave requirement. Megan Johnson, West High social studies teacher and Iowa City Education Association (ICEA) building representative, is irritated by the U.S. maternity laws, believing some employers take advantage of the lack of policy.
“The idea is probably that employers will provide paid family leave on their own, or that it should be left up to the states. Unfortunately, many employers have not provided paid family leave and only some states have passed laws requiring paid family leave,” Johnson said. “The family leave policies in our country frustrate me because we are so behind the rest of the world. Parents living in the U.S. should not be forced to go back to work just a few days after having a baby because they can’t afford to not be working.”
Additionally, social studies teacher Dominic Iannone believes the family leave policies that do exist are unfair to those who truly need them.
“The people who have the most access to paid maternity leave tend to have the most education and are the wealthiest members of our society, so the people that really need it aren’t getting it,” Iannone said. “It puts lower income people in a bind because they have no way to be at home with their children and have that steady income. Paid family leave is now a way to recruit the most skilled workers; it’s not an ‘I need this to live’.”
On a more local level, the district’s policies are now under question as well after the rise of leaves. The ICCSD policy allows six weeks paid maternity leave and another six weeks unpaid leave to new mothers, while new fathers receive two weeks paid leave. Substitute and retired West High English teacher Carolyn Van Zante has long-term subbed for West teachers on maternity leave. Van Zante believes that the district is not giving enough benefits to new parents.
“Those first six weeks of a child’s life are extremely important and I don’t think that using a sick leave is a correct interpretation of what the government says they should be allowed. They’re supposed to get twelve weeks and they can take twelve weeks, but then they have to take [the second six weeks] without pay and I don’t think that that’s right,” Van Zante said.
Furthermore, Van Zante believes that these policies are proof of women’s inequality in the workforce.
“I think it’s another example of the inequity in women’s pay. They are treated as though this is just something that they can do at anytime,” Van Zante said. “The way that the United States handles it is just archaic in comparison to what a number of other European nations do.”
Long-term sub Joel Flack believes the district and its employees could benefit from a change in policy.
“The district’s policies are okay, but I believe that they should have a longer time, but it’s the federal minimum, and most places are going to follow the minimum,” Flack said. “I would make it a minimum of eight weeks paid, at the least. You need time to bond and time to get used to this addition to your family.”
Van Zante believes that change has not come to the district because the state of Iowa has not enforced it.
“I don’t know why [the district’s policies are what they are], but that’s the way it’s always been, and I think that inertia is often the way large organizations go until someone forces them to do something differently, and the state of Iowa has not forced them to do anything differently, and the government hasn’t forced them to do anything differently, but I hope that it changes.”
Students are also on board with a change in policy. Grace Yarrow ’19 believes that the district should adjust to the teachers’ needs.
“I think that the maternity and paternity leave should be adjusted based on what the teacher thinks is right,” Yarrow said. “I think that it’s hard to say that the whole policy is . . . fair because a lot of it varies from person to person. However, it’s important for the district to understand if the teacher needs or wants more time off.”
On the other hand, Chief Negotiator for ICEA Mitch Gross believes the time for paternity leave is not in need of a change, as it is goes unused already.
“I know that a lot of teachers don’t even use the full maternity leave because it is more stressful to be gone than to be here at school. I have never used my whole five days,” Gross said.
Though men and women have different reasons for leave policies, Iannone believes the time should be equal for both parents, and that the district should adjust to certain families needs.
“We haven’t really hit a consensus with maternity and paternity leave, and paid family leave is another step beyond that,” Iannone said. “Both parents should play a role the raising of the child, and women have physical medical reasons why they need time off, but it also makes sense from a family perspective that fathers should have time off as well and be there with their family during that transition.”
However, Gross sees the policies as a low demand, as they have not changed for 11 years.
“It will not change until there is a demand for it. I have been the chief negotiator for 11 years and no one has ever said that they need more maternity leave,” Gross said. “It’s a standard procedure and a standard policy for the United States and school districts.”
While the policies have been the same for many years, Van Zante believes that the time for change is just around the corner.
“I don’t know why we are so backwards on this policy,” Van Zante said. “I don’t think it’s fair that paternity leave is two weeks while maternity leave is six weeks, but that they have any maternity leave is remarkable; it’s a move forward. It is a sign of progress.”
Graphic by Simran Sarin.