Many teachers are concerned about the health and safety risks of going back into school buildings as the coronavirus pandemic rages on. But for teachers who are pregnant, there are even more questions and fears.
“There’s so little known about the effects of the virus on pregnant mothers and unborn babies, and the further I get in my pregnancy, the more cautious I become,” said Kathryn, an elementary teacher in California who is about six months pregnant. “I didn’t want to expose myself unnecessarily.”
Kathryn, who asked for her last name to be withheld, was relieved that her district decided to start the year remotely and allow teachers to work from home. If school buildings did open for in-person instruction and she wasn’t able to secure a medical accommodation, Kathryn would have had to go into work—at the possible expense of her and her baby’s health.
“Financially, it wouldn’t have been an option for me to take a leave or resign,” she said. “I would just have had to get as much [personal protective equipment] as possible and try to be really safe and try to make my classroom as safe as possible.”
In other places across the country, pregnant teachers will have to go into the classroom—or they’ll have to request an accommodation to work remotely. So far, about half of the 700 districts in Education Week’s database, which is not nationally representative, have opted to provide some form of in-person schooling this fall, including four of the 25 largest districts.
Nationally, about 76 percent of teachers are women, and many of them are in their childbearing years. For those who will be pregnant during this school year, here’s what to know.
What are the effects of COVID-19 on pregnant people or fetuses?
Much remains unknown about COVID-19 and pregnancy, especially since not all the women who were pregnant at the start of the pandemic have delivered yet. One study found that pregnant women with COVID-19 were more likely to end up in intensive care units and need ventilators than non-pregnant women, but they were not more likely to die.
According to the American College of Obstrecians and Gynecologists, some pregnant women with COVID-19 have delivered their babies early, but it’s not clear whether those preterm births were due to the virus. Researchers have also found a few cases of COVID-19 that may have been passed from the woman to the fetus during pregnancy, but this seems to be rare.
Newborns can contract COVID-19 if they are exposed to it, but doctors say the rate of infection is low. As of last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics no longer recommends separating newborns from mothers who are infected with COVID-19 after birth.
What recourse do pregnant teachers have if they don’t want to go to back into school buildings?
There are two federal laws that could help pregnant teachers: the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
Pregnancy itself is not considered a disability, but if someone has a related impairment, like gestational diabetes or preeclampsia, or has a high-risk pregnancy, then they could qualify for a reasonable accommodation at work under the ADA. Reasonable accommodations could include being assigned to remote work—but the employer does not have to grant anyone an accommodation that would put a burden on operations.
The PDA says that employers can’t treat pregnant people worse than other employees because they are pregnant or have a pregnancy-related condition. That means if the employer is providing accommodations to other employees who have similar abilities to work, they have to provide the pregnant employees with accommodations, too. The pregnant employee does not need to have a pregnancy-related disability to have rights under this law.
Also, 29 states and five cities have some sort of law that protects pregnant workers, according to A Better Balance, a national nonprofit that advocates for worker protections.
Can a pregnant teacher take a leave of absence?
The Family Medical Leave Act allows employees who have been at their job for at least a year to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected time off to take care of family or to manage a serious health condition that prevents them from doing their jobs. Workers can take FMLA during pregnancy—but it can only be used once in a year, so many pregnant teachers will likely save the time off to care for their new baby. For the most part, school districts don’t offer paid parental leave.
Employees who are quarantining based on either a government order or the advice of a health-care provider and those who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms are eligible for two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Workers can also take up to 12 weeks of paid leave at two-thirds pay to care for a child whose school or child-care provider is closed or unavailable due to COVID-19. These leave provisions are set to expire on Dec. 31.
What about teachers with pregnant spouses at home?
The ADA does not protect employees who live with someone who has a disability. It’s up to districts whether they will allow those teachers to work remotely. Many districts have created tiered systems for requesting to work from home—priority is given to those who are at high risk, followed by those with high-risk family members. But districts that are planning to reopen school buildings have to balance granting accommodations with maintaining staffing levels for the students who are on campus.
In Mulberry, Fla., for instance, high school science teacher Richard Littleton requested to work remotely since his wife is seven months pregnant. His district denied his request, and Littleton resigned from teaching, The Ledger reported.
“Over the last five years, I have sacrificed a lot for my students and education in Polk County, but I’m not willing to sacrifice my wife or our first child for Polk County Schools,” Littleton told the Ledger.
Image via Getty
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.