Illinois Supreme Court to take up Wood Dale teacher's unpaid maternity leave case

A Wood Dale teacher is seeking reimbursement for unpaid time she took off after the birth of her child in a case that is set to go before the Illinois Supreme Court on Wednesday.

The case could have broad implications for teachers, attorneys for the Illinois Education Association say, as it will interpret a section of the Illinois School Code that allows teachers to take up to 30 days of accumulated sick leave after a birth without proving any medical need.

Margaret Dynak, a third-grade teacher at Westview Elementary in Wood Dale District 7, said she was told shortly before the birth of her second child in June 2016 that her request to use accrued sick time as provided by the code would not be approved unless she showed a medical reason. The child was born slightly before the end of one school year and the beginning of summer break.

"She was asking to use sick leave on the immediate 30 work days following the birth of her child," said Sylvia Rios, general counsel for the Illinois Education Association. "Because of the intervening calendar break, the district said that she was not able to use 28.5 of her sick days for leave, claiming that she needed to show a medical reason."

The Illinois Education Association instead argues the school code provides no such time limitations on use of sick days following a birth.

Dynak chose to take the time off as unpaid leave to be at home with her new daughter, and in appealing her case to the Illinois Supreme Court, she is seeking back pay for those days.

"Just because I gave birth in June doesn't mean I can't take my 30 sick days," Dynak said Tuesday.

Rios said two other cases about similar maternity leave situations are stayed pending the Supreme Court's decision in this case. One of those other cases is Dynak's as well, relating to the birth of her son in June 2018, when she said she again was not allowed to take accumulated sick days the following school year and chose to take unpaid time.

Wood Dale District 7 Superintendent John Corbett and school board members did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

Rios said arguments will be made before the Supreme Court on Wednesday in Springfield, then the court is expected to take a few months to make a decision.

Dynak said she will be teaching as usual Wednesday in District 7, where she is in her 12th year. She said it has been stressful to have to fight for compensation for the sick days she earned, and the legal battle has cut into her time with her children, now ages 6, 3 and 1.

Illinois Education Association Associate General Counsel Ryan Thoma is set to present Dynak's case Wednesday, with a rebuttal expected from an attorney for District 7.

Rios said the union hopes the court gives "a decision that indicates that an intervening break in a school calendar does not mitigate a teacher's right to use accrued sick leave under the Illinois School Code."

"The interpretation of this sick-leave provision will affect any of our members who welcome the birth of a child," Rios said.

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