The schoolteacher contract is up for renewal this year, a political happening that affects our children more than you might think.

After all, the contract does much more than determine how much teachers are paid. It also addresses issues like class sizes and time-lengths, as well as how instructors are evaluated.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association and the state have already begun negotiations. The union has started updating us on how the talks are set to unfold, as well as its priorities.

One issue not on the table, unfortunately, is maternity leave.

Teachers and supporters cheer as union leader Gary Gill rallies support after hundreds gathered in front of the Capitol at the beginning of the current legislative session. fronting the Capitol.
Teachers and supporters cheered during a rally at the Capitol early this year to push for more education funding. But paid maternity leave apparently isn’t high on the priority list. Cory Lum / Civil Beat

Our current contract has no provision for maternity leave, simply a provision called “child care” under the section of leave without pay. That provision simply cites Standards of Practice regulation 5401, which allows leave without pay for disabilities, child care, professional improvement, religious holidays, military service and government employment, among other things.

That term “child care” is all that’s put forward in any public teacher employment agreement concerning maternity. Two words.

In a profession where up to 80 percent of employees are female, having no language concerning maternity leave in our contact is unsettling. The contract the state has with Unit 13 of the Hawaii Government Employees Association at least mentions child care, prenatal care and adoption as reasons for leave without pay.

In an era where teacher retention is supposed to be a high priority, it makes no sense to tell young women to put their life plans on hold, or skip a few paychecks.

HSTA is exploring legislative solutions to the maternity issue, but this needs to be in the contract.

Regulation 5401 further details maximums and minimums of time allowed, from 30 days to one year, and outlines how to get extensions. In all, it guarantees employees a job if they take that leave. While this is helpful protection for working mothers, it is not enough for the women working in the classroom.

I talked to some of my co-workers about their experiences navigating the system of having a child while working for the Department of Education.

Since it is unrealistic for almost anyone in Hawaii to go with no pay for a few weeks, most teachers use sick days. Each year, they receive a maximum of 18 sick days plus six personal days. The sick days roll over year to year, personal days do not.

One teacher I spoke with took off five weeks when she gave birth last year. She used her entire bank of sick leave, eventually taking five days without pay.

I heard about a new teacher who came back to work a week after giving birth since she had no sick days stored up.

There is a way to augment how many sick days teachers have stored up. Teachers can donate leave to each other. One teacher I spoke with tried this option after she used all her sick days she had. After filling out the packets of paperwork, she sent an email to the whole faculty, asking for our generosity.

There are lots of regulation on who can donate and how much, and in the end, three people each donated a day. Three paychecks later, she received back pay for those days she had missed. She had missed three weeks of work total.

Even once a mother returns, things do not get easy. Another co-worker was able to use banked sick leave to stay with her baby for two months, but once she came back, she found a new challenge: breast milk pumping.

The school informed her that if she had to leave a class to pump that a security guard could come watch her class. Fortunately, her class schedule allowed her to pump right before lunch, or she would not have had enough time to pump during our 30-minute lunch period.

She was given no concrete instruction on where she should pump, but the health room is very far from her classroom, so she ended up using this bathroom:

Campbell High bathroom
This cramped bathroom at Campbell High School is where a teacher and new mother went to pump breast milk. Ethan Porter

In an era where teacher retention is supposed to be a high priority, it makes no sense to tell young women to put their life plans on hold, or skip a few paychecks.

People I know have left the classroom because they can’t afford to take time off without pay.

To put more context on how we are letting our teachers down, Donald Trump recently released a maternity leave plan. Under his policy, workers who do not get sick leave from their employers would qualify for six weeks of unemployment benefits. Hawaii teachers would qualify for his plan.

Let that sink in; a public sector union in a very blue, progressive state has a worse maternity leave plan than Donald Trump wants nationwide.

The union and state need to come to an agreement on how to support the women of our profession when they decide to start, or continue, their families.

Of course, there should be similar supports in place for fathers and parents who choose to adopt, but right now we do not even have a base coverage for the majority population.

This needs to be fixed.

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