DONALDONSVILLE — Ascension Parish school employees considering a pregnancy have less than three months remaining to file for extended sick leave.
The Ascension Parish School Board approved a new policy Tuesday night that would eliminate the use of extended sick leave for maternity leave beginning Nov. 1.
The policy was in response to the Louisiana Legislature’s passage of Act 788 in June, which redefines how school employees can qualify for extended sick leave.
Employees may take up to 90 days of extended sick leave for a “medical necessity,” which is defined as being “the result of a catastrophic illness or injury, which means a life-threatening chronic, or incapacitating condition of the teacher or a member of his immediate family,” the act reads.
Superintendent Patrice Pujol said the previous definition of extended sick leave “was so broad” that not only did maternity leave qualify, but so did missing a single day of work for a cold. The Legislature enacted stiffer qualifications for the program, but did include an additional 30-day period each six years for teachers to use for maternity leave.
Pujol said that, in the past teachers, were forced to take unpaid leave following a pregnancy, use the federal government’s Family and Medical Leave Act or apply for extended sick leave. Now, for the first time, teachers can take a specific paid maternity leave, Pujol said.
The act did cause some confusion among both school administrators and board members because only teachers — not other employees — can receive the 30 days for maternity leave.
Angie Peraza, the school district’s risk manager, said she had spoken to School Board attorneys and school officials in other districts who had different interpretations of Act 788. She said the language wasn’t clear if the maternity leave would be 30 days in addition to the 90 days allowed under the extended sick leave program.
Peraza said she wasn’t sure precisely what the Legislature intended with the bill, adding she believed amendments were needed to clean up some of the language.
“I think there will be some changes,” Peraza said.
After discussing the issue and going over the act’s language, however, the board settled on adopting the new 30-day maternity leave procedure effective in November.
Pujol said she’s hopeful that the Legislature’s stiffening of the requirements for extended sick leave would save the district money, as the broad interpretation cost the district $5 million last year, she said.
And that’s not including the cost for hiring substitute teachers to replace the teachers out on leave, Peraza added.
“We know we have a problem with extended sick leave,” Peraza said. “Every district in the state has a problem with it.”