SPRINGFIELD – On Wed., Jan. 22, the Illinois Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Margaret Dynak vs. Board of Education Wood Dale School District 7. In June 2016, Westview Elementary School teacher and Illinois Education Association (IEA) member Dynak was told she could not use her birth leave to take time off to care for her newborn daughter.
“I honestly couldn’t believe it. I had a newborn baby at home and was not allowed to use my earned time off to care for her,” Dynak said. “What the district did is not only unfair and wrong, it also showed a total disregard for my rights, and showed me that the district does not care about working mothers or understand the burdens placed on a family caring for a newborn.”
Section 24-6 of the Illinois School Code provides that both male and female teachers may use up to 30 days of accumulated paid sick leave for “birth,” absent any medical need for such leave. Moreover, the statute does not provide that a teacher loses this right based on when his or her child is born.
The case arises from the fact that the Wood Dale District 7 only allowed Dynak to use one and a half days of sick leave for the birth of her child, despite the fact that the School Code entitles her to use up to 30 days for birth absent medical certification. The school district based its decision solely on when Dynak’s child was born, which happened to be just before the summer break.
“The district decided because I had my child just before the summer break, which I had no control over, I no longer have the same rights as other women who have a child during the school year. If my daughter happened to be born in September or October, the district would have approved my leave request without a problem,” Dynak said. “Instead, I was forced to choose between taking unpaid leave to spend time with and care for my daughter, or go to work so I could continue to earn money to provide for my newly expanded family.”
“All we’re asking is that the Court recognize that Margaret has a right under the Illinois School Code to use her sick leave for 30 workdays for the birth of her child,” IEA Associate General Counsel Ryan Thoma said. “Just because her child happened to be born in June should not mean she loses the right to use her previously-earned paid sick leave. The School Code clearly provides her the right to use paid sick leave for birth, and nothing in the statute shows any intent by the legislature to treat employees differently based on the timing of the birth, which employees simply have no control over.”
The Illinois Supreme Court’s decision in this case will affect school employees across the state and determine whether only some of those employees will be able use their earned paid sick leave to spend time with and care for their children following birth.
“This lawsuit has the potential to impact hundreds, if not thousands, of Illinois school district employees each and every school year. It’s so important that our educators’ voices be heard and that their rights are upheld,” Thoma said. “This is more than a women’s rights issue, this is a crucial issue for all parents and working families. When school districts misinterpret the law like this, it has very real consequences for public school employees. New mothers and fathers are unfairly forced to make the painstaking decision of whether to bear the burden of taking unpaid leave or to give up spending time with their newly-born child, which is simply irreplaceable. As a father of a young child, I can’t imagine having to make that choice. The School Code provides school employees with the right to use their earned sick leave for birth and we will do everything we can to protect that right.”
The Dynak case will be the first case the Illinois Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in when they begin session on Wednesday. A decision from the court is not expected for a couple months.
The 135,000 member Illinois Education Association (IEA-NEA) is the state’s largest education employee’s organization. IEA represents preK-12 teachers outside of the city of Chicago and education support staff, higher education faculty, retired education employees and students preparing to become teachers, statewide.