Simplified: For the first time, teachers in the Sioux Falls School District will have some paid maternity leave starting this year. Here's what you need to know.

Why it matters

  • Before this change, many teachers faced days – if not weeks – of unpaid leave after having a baby. Now, those unpaid days will be cut down, said Tim Eckert, president of local teachers' union the Sioux Falls Education Association.
  • The latest agreement also gives teachers bereavement leave after a miscarriage. They'll be able to take up to five days of leave following the death of an unborn child.
  • The changes come amid significant teacher shortages statewide, and union officials both in Sioux Falls and at the state level expect more districts will begin to follow suit.
"It goes back to, how do you attract and retain people?" said Ryan Rolfs, executive director of the South Dakota Education Association. "For the most part these districts are operating out of the same hiring pool ... I would expect some districts to make this a big priority."

How did we get here?

The changes come in the latest collective bargaining agreement with the Sioux Falls Education Association, the union representing teachers (among others) in the district.

The issue of maternity leave caught widespread attention in December after a high school teacher shared emotional testimony to the school board.

  • The video of Diedra Nissen was viewed thousands of times.
  • Her main concern was that teachers weren't able to use sick leave they'd banked. So, as she said, even though she had 50 days saved up, she had to come back to work after 30.

What do the changes mean?

While Nissen's concerns about using banked sick days weren't addressed in the new agreement, the district did establish its first maternity leave option.

Teachers will now have 10 days of maternity gap leave.

Let's break that down.

First, it's worth understanding how leave worked before the changes.*

  • Essentially, maternity leave was treated the same as any other long-term leave for a medical event. That part isn't changing.
  • The leave is not paid, but teachers can bank sick days to keep getting paid. And, if they run out of sick days, they can pull from a "bank" of leave the district has available. Picture this as a big, fake bucket full of sick days.

Here's where it gets math-y

Teachers can't pull from the bank until they've used essentially two years worth of sick days.

  • For a new teacher, coming in with 12 sick days per year, that means they'd need to take 24 days off before using the "bank."
  • Let's say she had 12 sick days banked – those are paid. That means she'd have to take another 12 days unpaid before accessing the "bank" of sick leave.

Now here's where the change comes in

That same teacher, under the new policy, would have 10 days of paid leave to help cover the gap between where her sick leave ends and the mystical "bank" of leave begins.

  • Now, she's only taking two days unpaid.

*If you really want to get into the nitty-gritty here, I did a deep dive on this issue back in December.

What about dads?

Paternity leave wasn't part of this new agreement, Eckert said.

As has long been the case, dads will be able to take family illness leave. That allows them up to 10 days of leave – and they can use sick days to ensure they keep getting paid for that time off.

What else is changing?

The district's bereavement leave was extended from three days to five days, Eckert said. And, the agreement broadens bereavement leave to include: nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles and an unborn child.

  • That means teachers who suffer a miscarriage at any stage in pregnancy can take up to five days of leave.

The agreement also adds a "physical injury leave," Eckert said.

  • That means if a teacher is physically injured by a student, they can take the rest of the day off without having it deducted from their sick leave.

Teachers can also now donate sick days. Previously, they could only donate personal days to other people who need it.

The agreement also increased the amount of time teachers will get for planning by 25 percent.

"There were solid gains for teachers that are going to really positively affect their employment and the way they can work in their classroom," Eckert said.

What did the district have to say?

"The Sioux Falls School District deeply values our dedicated staff," the district said in a statement. "We are proud of the employee benefits we offer to enhance the overall health and wellbeing of many families in the Sioux Falls community."

What happens next?

The collective bargaining agreement was approved by the school board last month, and it'll go into effect July 1.

It'll extend until 2028, the same time teachers will again be able to re-negotiate salaries (previous reporting on the salary piece here).