A suburban teacher is taking her case against the district she works in to the Illinois Supreme Court to fight for her right to use earned sick leave for the birth of her child.
Margaret Dynak is a third-grade teacher at West View elementary. She filed a lawsuit against Wood Dale District 7, claiming she was denied her right to use accrued sick leave as a delayed maternity leave.
“They told me the school board would not approve it," said Dynak, now a mother of three. "That they believe school code is not interpreted that way.”
Illinois school code does allow teachers to use accrued sick time for birth, but Dynak’s situation is unique. She had her child in June and wanted to use her time when school started in August.
“I felt a little lost, disappointed in the district," Dynak explained. "That was my hard-working time that I saved up.”
Wood Dale School District 7 issued a statement that says in part, “Ms. Dynak was not denied any time off she requested in connection with the birth of her children. 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.”
Dynak did take a maternity leave when school started but was not paid. The Illinois Education Association believes she should be, since she planned to use paid sick days. They’re fighting on Dynak’s behalf, taking her case all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court.
“(It’s) the same benefit, the same earned right every other person in that district has, but Margaret was denied simply because of when her child was born,” said Bridget Shanahan, the spokesperson for the Illinois Education Association.
“This is a benefit she’s earned," said Shanahan. "She’s worked time in the school district, she squirreled away these sick days year after year so she could plan to have this child and get paid while she is taking time to bond with her child.”
During opening statements Wednesday, an attorney with the IEA told the Illinois Supreme Court the question at hand was all about timing and Dynak doesn’t lose her earned leave because of when her child was born.
“She does not lose that right by any intervening period of non-work days, whether that be summer break in this case, or whether that be spring break, winter break or another holiday period,” said Ryan Thoma, IEA associate general counsel.
Dynak, whose daughter is now 4 years old, is hopeful she’ll be reimbursed for her unpaid leave. She’s also hoping her case will set a precedent for educators throughout the state.
“I hope that people are able to use what they earned toward that special moment of their life,” she said. “Hopefully more people will be able to enjoy that time and not have to deal with the stress.”
Dynak currently has two cases pending against the district, including another involving the birth of her third child, who was also born in the summer. That case remains pending until the case at hand is settled. The IEA said in the middle of a teacher shortage, this case could be a dealbreaker for future teachers.
“At a time we’re struggling to get people to come into this profession, this is not the time to be litigating cases like this,” said Shanahan. “We’re trying to convince people to go into this profession. If I were a young woman in school right now, going to school to become a teacher, I would be paying attention to this because this is a benefit you get for being an educator in Illinois.”
The IEA expects a decision in the next two to three months.