District 7 defends decision in teacher maternity leave case

State Supreme Court hears arguments in Wood Dale teacher's suit

The Illinois Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday in the case of a Wood Dale teacher who says she should have been allowed to use accrued sick time after the birth of her daughter - even though the baby was born just before summer break.

The case hinges on whether Illinois School Code requires proof of medical need or regulates the timing when sick leave can be taken after a birth.

Attorneys for Wood Dale District 7 teacher Margaret Dynak say it does neither. School code, attorneys with the Illinois Education Association say, allows teachers to take up to 30 days of accumulated sick leave after a birth without proving any medical need or being subject to any time limitations.

But Wood Dale District 7 took the opposite stance in 2016 when the child, Dynak's second, was born shortly before the end of one school year and the beginning of summer break.

The district, in a statement Wednesday, said it did not deny Dynak's request to take time off at the beginning of the following school year to be home with her child.

But Dynak said she was required to take the 28.5 days she requested as unpaid leave instead of getting paid for the time as sick days she had earned.

"The question in this case is whether paid sick leave is available for use four months after the birth of the child when neither the teacher, spouse or child present a medical issue that requires the teacher be absent," District 7 Superintendent John Corbett said in a statement. "While the legislature is free to change the law, and the union is free to bargain for such a benefit, the present law does not support Ms. Dynak's claim to paid parental leave."

Lower courts have backed the district's stance, so Dynak and the Illinois Education Association appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court.

In oral arguments Wednesday, Dynak's attorney, Ryan Thoma of the Illinois Education Association, contended Dynak is entitled to all 30 days of her paid leave.

"She did not lose that right based on the happenstance of when her child was born," he said.

Thoma also argued the law's phrasing of "leave after an absence" means the 30 days of leave applies to consecutive school days, no matter where they fall in the calendar. Teachers are "only absent when they are expected to be at work," he said.

Adam Dauksas, representing the school district, argued that allowing school employees to essentially delay their leave would lead to "absurd results."

"Sick leave use must be tethered to the event causing the need to be absent from work," he said. "It can't be delayed 10 weeks, 10 months later down the road."

Thoma rebutted it is "unreasonable" to think school employees would game the system and take extremely delayed leaves.

"It's the focus of these employees requesting the leave to spend the time with their child," he said, "and the paid sick leave is there to ease the extreme financial burden of doing so."

The court is expected to take a few months to make a decision.

Dynak said she is pleased the case is being taken seriously.

"I feel everyone should be treated fairly with their maternity leave, especially working at a school," she said. "It doesn't matter when you gave birth."

Two other pending cases related to maternity leave timing have been stayed pending the outcome of this case, said Sylvia Rios, general counsel for the Illinois Education Association.

One of those 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. The district again said it did not deny her the ability to take time off; only the issue of pay is in question.

Dynak is in her 12th year working for District 7, where she now teaches third-graders at Westview Elementary.

• Ben Orner of Capitol News Illinois contributed this report.

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