Teachers Who Must Pay Their Subs While on Extended Leave May Get Relief

1 min
Heather Burns sits in her third grade classroom at Martin Elementary in South San Francisco. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016. While on extended sick leave, Burns began getting paychecks that amounted to less than half of her regular pay after the cost of her substitute had been deducted. (Stephanie Lister/KQED)

A California state lawmaker is moving to repeal a 40-year-old law requiring public school teachers on extended sick leave to pay for their own substitute teachers.

KQED first reported on the state law last spring, after a San Francisco Unified school community created a GoFundMe account to help one of their teachers who was battling cancer. That teacher had to pay the cost of her own substitute — amounting to nearly half of her paycheck — while she underwent extended treatment. After the story published, more California public school teachers came forward to describe similar hardships.

Democratic State Sen. Connie Leyva of Chino, chair of the education committee, then took up the issue, but said action would need to wait until this session. Now she's introduced Senate Bill 796, which would entitle school employees to continue to receive full pay while on extended sick leave.

“No public school employee on extended sick leave should ever lose the majority of their salary while they are in the fight of their life.” Leyva said in a statement. “In that moment, the employee’s job is to simply survive. It should not be the employee’s job to pay for their own replacement or, even worse, figure out how to feed or keep a roof over their family’s head while they are undergoing cancer treatment or any other health crisis while on extended sick leave."

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Heather Burns was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016 while teaching fifth grade at Sheridan Elementary School in San Francisco. She and her husband had just had a child and purchased a new home.

While receiving treatment on extended sick leave, Burns began getting paychecks that amounted to less than half of her regular pay after the cost of the substitute had been deducted. She said she and her husband almost lost everything, including the new home they had bought before she became ill.

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"Finally Sen. Connie Leyva listened to our outrage and is fighting for teachers," Burns said. "We want to be treated with dignity and respect in our darkest hour. We want to be able to fight for our lives in a major health crisis without becoming homeless or going to others for outside support."

Leyva's office said the fiscal impact of this bill would represent a cost shift from school employees, including teachers, to their employers, but that any potential fiscal impacts have not yet been analyzed by the Legislature.

A spokesperson for the San Francisco Unified School District said its current policy is agreed upon between the teachers union and district, and the district will work with the union to update the policy to reflect any new state laws that take effect.

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