Chicago – Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has signed a law extending family medical leave benefits to part-time school and college support staff.
House Bill 12 expands access to family and medical leave for educational support staff in school districts, public universities and community colleges.
“For too long, we have asked our school staff to provide exceptional care supporting kids in school without giving them the grace and flexibility to care for themselves and their families,” Pritzker said during a bill signing ceremony Aug. 10 in Chicago. “It’s an omission that undermines the value of their work and the reality of their lives away from school grounds.”
Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), workers are entitled to as many as 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period to care for a newborn child, to care for a close relative who has a serious health condition, or to deal with their own serious illness. That expands to 26 weeks to care for a child, spouse or parent who is a service member with a serious illness or injury.
To be eligible, though, the employee must have been employed for at least 12 months and worked at least 1,250 hours during the previous 12-month period – a threshold that often can’t be met by many part-time school employees known as education support professionals ( ESPs), such as paraprofessionals, secretaries, librarians, custodians, cafeteria workers, bus drivers and others – many of whom work only limited hours during the day, and often only when school is in session.
As a result, said Kathi Griffin, president of the Illinois Education Association, ESPs who are 10-month employees fell short of the number of hours federally required to qualify for FMLA benefits.
“In many school districts across the state, this meant that when these amazing education employees had to care for themselves or a family member’s health, they had a very difficult decision to make,” Griffin said. “They would be forced to deny care of a loved one, or resign from their job. Or if it was the employee who was sick, they may not be guaranteed their position once they got better, and lose their health insurance, all while the only reason they needed to take a leave was due to a health condition.”
Griffin said there are more than 25,000 ESPs within the Illinois Education Association. That does not include those who belong to the International Federation of Teachers (IFT), the other major education union in the state, or those who are not union members.
The bill passed both chambers of the General Assembly with strong bipartisan majorities — 95-14 in the House, and 47-3 in the Senate.
“Our hardworking support professionals are the unsung heroes and heroines of our educational system,” said State Representative Terra Costa Howard (D-Glen Ellyn), the bill’s chief sponsor in the House. “By signing HB 12 into law, Governor Pritzker is making sure that the people who keep our schools running smoothly have fair access to FMLA when they face illness and other life-changing events in their families.”
Rep. Katie Stuart (D-Edwardsville), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, who is a former public elementary and high school and college math teacher, said the extension will allow paraprofessionals and other educational support staff employees to take family medical leave after a year on the job, just like any other full-time employee.
“Increasing access to FMLA will give local families the ability to take time off to care for themselves or their families,” Stuart said. “Our teachers and staff should not have to use all of their sick leave or vacation time when they have a new baby or serious illness that requires them to take time off from work.”
‘A RIGHT, NOT A PRIVILEGE’
“The ability to take family or medical leave is a right and not a privilege,” said Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton. “This legislation is about compassion in policymaking because it is important that everyone has access to leave that allows for selfcare or the care of a loved one. Extending the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to include education support professionals across the state gives these essential workers the support they need and deserve.”