Bills target maternity leave for teachers, one requires 3 weeks of paid maternity leave

Feb 6, 2024, 5:35 PM | Updated: Feb 7, 2024, 9:30 am

FILE: (L-R) Co-teachers at Yung Wing School P.S. 124 Marisa Wiezel (who is related to the photograp...

FILE: (L-R) Co-teachers at Yung Wing School P.S. 124 Marisa Wiezel (who is related to the photographer) and Caitlin Kenny give a lesson to their masked students in their classroom on September 27, 2021 in New York City. New York City schools fully reopened earlier this month with all in-person classrooms and mandatory masks on students. The city's mandate ordering all New York City school staff to be vaccinated by midnight today was delayed again after a federal appeals court issued a temporary injunction three days before the mayor's deadline. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

(Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY — Two bills in the Utah Legislature this season focus on maternity leave for teachers. While maternity leave can vary from district to district, there is no guaranteed paid maternity leave offered to Utah educators.

One bill would require three weeks of paid maternity leave for teachers. The other would require local education agencies to provide paid maternity leave in an effort to improve teacher retention within the state of Utah.

Utah Education Association President Renée Pinkney said she thinks the bills are “a move in the right direction.”

“They love and they work with children and be able to, you know, keep their jobs, as well as feel supported. If we’re a family-friendly state, we should be family-friendly to our educators as well,” Pinkney said.

HB75, sponsored by Rep. Stephanie Gricius, R-Eagle Mountain, and Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville focuses on parental leave for state employees who either have a baby, adopt a child, or assume a parent or guardian role. The bill also allows individuals to take parental leave for recovery from childbirth that occurs at 20 weeks gestation or later.

HB431 sponsored by Rep. Candice Pierucci, R Salt Lake County, provides multiple programs and incentives for teacher retention including a teacher support hotline, a mentoring teacher excellence program, and required paid maternity leave provided by local education agencies.

Pinkney said retention has been a big problem.

“Our early career educators are leaving: 47% leave within the first five years and that is really hard, not only on the whole staff who is you know, trying to fill that position but it’s also incredibly hard on students to have a lot of new teachers who are starting and then leaving, and it’s incredibly expensive for districts, because you’re starting over all the time,” Pinkney said.

Lawmakers are providing some incentives, including new maternity leave policies, hoping to keep teachers in the field.

Currently, teachers within the state of Utah are not guaranteed any paid maternity leave.

“It’s incredibly difficult because now you’re taking leave without pay, and the districts can require you to come back when they need you to come back,” Pinkney said.

That doesn’t mean that that’s the case for every teacher – depending on the district, the leave can vary. The district can determine its own policies when it comes to paid or unpaid leave.

“Every school district has their own leave policies and many cases, those policies are negotiated with the local education association that is affiliated with UEA,” Pinkney said. “That’s why it’s very different because one district, their educators may want higher salaries, and so they’re willing to give a little on the health care and leave and all of those policies.”

Teachers can take time off when they have a baby, but there’s no general state policy for taking maternity leave as an educator. Depending on what the district determines is available for unpaid leave, the teacher may have the ability to take some leave, or they may have to use their bank of sick and vacation days.

“It makes it very difficult for women who want to have children and they also want to have a job,” Pinkney said. “And sometimes they’re put in a position where they have to choose and that’s really hard.”

Where does that leave new teachers who haven’t accrued enough sick or vacation days? In a tough spot. Pinkney explained the situation of a colleague who didn’t know she was pregnant when she started her position as a teacher.

“In their first year, they haven’t accrued any paid time off and I did have a colleague who had to, well, she quit because they wanted her to come back at six weeks,” Pinkney said. “And she just couldn’t do it. She thought she could she said, ‘OK,’ and I think she came back for a few days and then just said, ‘I can’t do it,’ and she quit.”

A bill last year, HB229, attempted to get educators six weeks of paid leave but the bill ultimately failed on its third substitute.

Pinkney said the bills are a “good start,” but the ideal would be closer to what other countries offer: 12 weeks of paid maternity leave.

“I believe that our students’ success is dependent upon a stable environment in our schools,” Pinkney said. “And we would really appreciate having policies that are family-friendly, that support educators in their pursuit of growing their family and being able to have that positive transition for the whole family, with a generous parental leave policy.”

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Bills target maternity leave for teachers, one requires 3 weeks of paid maternity leave