On April 30th, Educators for Excellence - New York member Melissa Dorcemus testified in front of the New York City Council Committee on Education on the need to extend state and city parental paid leave benefits to Department of Education Employees, sharing, "over six years, I have spent 6,480 hours caring for and educating the children of NYC. I’m asking the City for 360 paid hours for me to be able to care for my own child. When you look at the numbers, it doesn’t seem like much to ask for."
Good Afternoon- and thank you, Committee Chair Treyger and Committee Chair Miller and members of the Committee on Education and the Committee on Civil Service and Labor, for allowing me to testify today.
I’m here today to speak to you about something of critical importance: paid parental leave for our city’s teachers.
My name is Melissa Dorcemus. I have been a NYC teacher for six years, teaching special education in the Bronx and Manhattan spanning grades six through nine. In addition to being a classroom teacher, I’ve been a school culture leader, department team leader, and new teacher mentor. This fall I will add mother to my list of roles when I welcome my first child. Over six years, I have spent 6,480 hours caring for and educating the children of NYC. I’m asking the City for 360 paid hours for me to be able to care for my own child. When you look at the numbers, it doesn’t seem like much to ask for.
When I started teaching at the age of 24,I knew that New York City schools didn’t offer maternity leave. Even then, I knew that someday I would want to be a mother, so I had to start planning and accumulating sick leave. In the past, I’ve been able to push through and go to work with the flu, or a sinus infection; recently, however, being pregnant has not been easy for me. I have faced some early complications with my pregnancy which means I have to make the impossible choice between staying home to take care of myself and my unborn child or having the time off from my job to take care of him after he is born. Being put in a position where I am forced to go to work when I’m sick doesn’t help me get better, doesn’t help me be a better educator, and it certainly does not help my future child. But for the teachers of NYC who are parents, or are planning on being parents, this is the impossible position the city and state have put us in.
Without standard paid time off, the city is also discriminating against teachers who choose to be parents. An unequal system of guaranteed paid family leave makes parenthood seem like an selfish choice that is judged and stigmatized within schools. Currently, in many schools, teacher leaders put their career advancement and reputation on the line when they decide to have a child of their own. I’ve taught in schools where if you missed work you were seen as weak and I left because I couldn’t imagine taking maternity leave there. I knew the administration would blame me for being absent, causing additional work for my colleagues, and pass me over for leadership opportunities. With paid leave protected, we can work to end the stigmatization of taking care of yourself that haunts so many educators.
One quick note, I use the word “parent” deliberately throughout, because I am not just talking about mothers needing paid time off but both parents, no matter their gender or family composition. They, like my husband who is also a city employee without paid leave, deserve time with their newborn child.
I hope that by the time I welcome my son in November that I can count on the benefit of paid parental leave. It would be such a relief during a time when I will have enough to worry about. Governor Cuomo’s Paid Family Leave website says New York has the “nation’s strongest paid family leave policy” and I urge you, Committee members, to extend to us what state and city law gives so many other New Yorkers. I also ask that you restitute the sick time to teachers still currently in the system who had to use their sick days to care for their newborn.
Thank you very much for your time.