‘Inhumane’: Teachers share their stories of new motherhood, urge Newton to change policy

Lost in much of the chaos and drama has been the topic of paid parental leave.

Newton gives less paid parental leave time to newer teachers than those with more seniority. But the needs associated with giving birth and caring for a newborn are the same for teachers of all levels of experience, so the NTA is demanding all teachers have 60 paid parental leave days.

Outside the Education Center Thursday night, NTA leaders and negotiators for a press conference and two teachers spoke about their experience giving birth while working in Newton.

Kathryn Teissier de Cros, who teaches at Newton North High School, spoke about getting only eight weeks—including February and April vacation—when she had a baby as a first-year teacher. Members of the community stepped in and helped her out, she said.

“This inability to negotiate with our team is inhumane,” Teissier de Cros said. “No other country in the world treats parents this way.”

Sangeet Srikanth, also a teacher at Newton North, compared her experience having her first child in 1997 in India, where she had 26 weeks of paid leave and an additional eight weeks of partially paid leave, for a total of about seven months.

“As much as India doesn’t have all the glamor that the U.S. has, or Newton has, a mother is put on the pedestal of the goddess because she’s giving birth to a new soul,” Srikanth said.

In Newton, not so much. Srikanth said her second child was born in 2006 and she was given only 12 weeks of paid leave. And Srikanth said that left her with an intense guilt.

“I needed the money to run the family, and my visa was connected to my job, and it did not allow me to take any time off without pay,” she said, adding that her sense of guilt lasted for years.

“Today, I realized why I was such a helicopter mom with my second one but was not with my first one,” Srikanth continued. “I’m overprotective, I’m trying to hold her, I’m trying to see that nothing goes wrong, and I think I still hold the guilt that I did not have enough time with her when she was born. And after 17 years I realize that.”

Part of the problem, NTA President Michael Zilles said, is that Newton doesn’t allow new teachers to take sick days from the “sick bank.”

Every year, each of the 2,000 NTA members puts one of their contract-allotted sick days into what’s known as the “sick bank.” But for the first few years, a teacher has limited access, if any at all, to those sick days in that sick bank.

Union members are essentially sharing what’s theirs by contract. But new teachers aren’t allowed to access as many sick days from the sick bank as those with more seniority. So if a new teacher has a baby, that teacher is restricted from accessing the sick bank when their limited paid parental leave ends.

If 2,000 employees each contribute one day, that amounts to a combined 5-and-a-half years of sick time in the sick bank.

“And we never use up all those days,” Zilles said.

Afterward, at a press conference inside, School Committee Chair Chris Brezski said the School Committee had presented the NTA with a new offer regarding paid parental leave.

“Today, we received a counterproposal that was completely different,” Brezski said.