Male teachers contrast district, national paternity leave policy

Dozing Daughter:  Cradling his daughter, Science Teacher Brandon Tucker smiles alongside his family members. In Nov. of 2016, Tucker took six days leave from teaching to help his wife welcome and care for their newborn baby. Photo courtesy Brandon Tucker

Dozing Daughter: Cradling his daughter, Science Teacher Brandon Tucker smiles alongside his family members. In Nov. of 2016, Tucker took six days leave from teaching to help his wife welcome and care for their newborn baby. Photo courtesy Brandon Tucker

Eliza Schloss, asst. features editor

Forty-eight percent of men working in full time jobs reported that job demands conflict with family life, according to a 2016 report from United States Department of Labor. These interferences may affect paternity leaves taken by new fathers. At South, some male teachers have taken paternity leaves to care for new children and adjust to changed lifestyles.

According to Principal Lauren Fagel, policies regarding teacher leaves due to medical and family reasons apply to the entirety of District 225. These policies are dictated though The Family Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, which guarantees a teacher the security of their job once returning from their leave, but does not mention paid leave for either mothers or fathers.

“FMLA is a federal piece of legislation that dictates what schools have to offer,” Fagel said. “People can take leave to care for the child after birth, it doesn’t say mom or dad, doesn’t say male or female.”

This federal law, according to Fagel, does not specify how much paid leave a teacher receives; this is the job of District 225’s Board of Education as well as the Teacher’s Association who decided that teachers on leave are paid by the sick days they have available for maximum 12 weeks.

“Districts can decide how much time people can be away and still be paid,” Fagel said. “If you’ve worked here for ten years and you haven’t gotten sick and haven’t used your sick days, the sick days roll over every year. You might be sitting on 60 sick days.”

This district policy applies to teachers going through both the birth or adoption of a child. According to French Teacher Matthew Bertke, he and his husband felt the district’s policy was very accommodating of their adoption of their son, Will.

“I’m extremely thankful for this district because they’ve been more than supportive in helping me in what is a different situation,” Bertke said. “When adopting, we found out he was coming home five days before he did. [District 225] bent over backwards to make [accommodations] happen.”

Science Teacher Brandon Tucker says his job as a teacher enabled him to take off a total of six days, coming back to South a day or two in between to help his students. Tucker was able to take off six days due to the convenience of the timing of his second child’s birth as it was just before Thanksgiving break and later, Winter break.

“In our jobs we are very fortunate to have a winter vacation where you get to spend a lot of time with your family and we get a spring break and summers off,” Tucker said.

According to Bertke, since men and women aren’t guaranteed paid leave in the United States, there is more pressure to return to work. Many jobs don’t allow for these breaks as certain work compromises family time, such as a psychologist, the occupation of Bertke’s husband.

“[My husband] is a psychologist and so for him to meet with clients is really important [because the clients need] that regularity for their health,” Bertke said. “For his job, extended absences are far more tricky, even females in his job tend to take shorter amounts of maternity leave than we’re fortunate enough to have access to as teachers.”

According to Tucker, his wife took off work for three months from her part-time job. Tucker believes her presence around the newborn was needed as she was able to feed the baby.

“The reality is that if the mother is breastfeeding, it’s necessary for her to be home with the child and I can only help so much with that process,” Tucker said. “There’s a physical requirement of my wife wanting to be there [with our child].”

On an international scale, the United States is one of nine highly developed countries without any paid leave policies in place for parents, according to an article published by NPR. Bertke is aware of the United States’ lack of policy for fathers compared to the other mostly European nations.

“If you look at Sweden, a man and woman both get a year off, but a woman can’t get her paid year off unless a man takes his payed year off,” Bertke said. “Just this idea of equity is what I think should be fair.”

Though pleased with District 225’s policy, Math Teacher Brian Schmalzer believes the United States should adopt a federal leave policy similar to Canada’s, which would benefit all working parents, not just those who are employed by work offering paid leave. According to Schmalzer, in Canada, a couple receives a year of paid leave in which after the first six months, the couple can choose to switch who takes time off work; Schmalzer says he is knowledegable about Canadian policy because his wife works at a Canadian company.

“Theoretically, in Canada my wife could have six months paid and the second six months I could have taken off paid; that’s a national law,” Schmalzer said.

Schmalzer believes that America’s FMLA policy doesn’t promote family bonding like other developed nations do.

“I think the support other first world nations show families is incredible and that’s something America should think about doing because that’s time [with your child] you don’t get back,” Schmalzer said.

According to Tucker, fathers in America aren’t well educated on their options for leaves.

“I don’t think it’s very well known to what the rights are of a father,” Tucker said. “It would be nice if the fathers were made more aware of the options. You have to search it all out on your own.”

As principal, Fagel explained that she is  knowledgeable about the demographics of staff leaves and notices any patterns in leaves.

“The only trend I’ve noticed in my career is that […] more and more fathers are taking off to be home with a new child, it could be a child that is adopted as well,” Fagel said.

*Interviews conducted by staff reporter Augie Mikell