D.C. teachers included under family-leave benefit

WASHINGTON — It was a misunderstanding that left D.C. teachers out of the loop. Teachers applying for a new benefit meant for all District employees had been told they were excluded. Now, the mayor’s office says, the law has been changed.

It was a confusing week for teachers, including Woodrow Wilson High School history teacher Patty Topliffe.

On Sept. 30, she received an email from Mayor Vincent Gray’s office addressed to all city employees, announcing a family paid leave benefit.

Topliffe, who was counting down her remaining days of unpaid leave with her 2 1/2-month-old daughter, remembers that day.

“So I applied immediately. I saw the email. I was thrilled,” she says.

It was an unexpected gift for Topliffe, who says she and her husband had discussed the idea of her returning to work before her unpaid maternity leave was up. It would mean less bonding time for mother and daughter, but would help ease the financial strain on the family, who was not accustomed to managing expenses on one income.

“About six days later, I received an email back from D.C. Public Schools saying I was not eligible because the benefit did not apply for teachers,” Topliffe says.

DCPS told Topliffe in that email the new city employee benefit contradicted the teacher’s contract.

While she’d only known about the new benefit for a short time, Topliffe says feeling excluded was disheartening.

“People I knew who were family planning, I emailed them and said, ‘By the way, this isn’t for us.’ And they were just as shocked as I was,” Topliffe says.

Mayor Vincent Gray’s office says he asked the City Council to amend the law Tuesday after a back-and-forth conversation with D.C. Public Schools over the teachers’ contract.

On Tuesday, the City Council clarified and passed legislation making it possible for educators to apply for family paid leave.

DCPS and the mayor’s office both say there was a back-and-forth between the offices regarding the issue, but neither would go into specifics about how a deal was reached.

The mayor’s office released a statement regarding the inclusion of teachers into the family paid leave benefit:

“It was the Mayor’s intent, and backed up by the intent of Office of the Chief Financial Officer, that all District employees, including teachers are eligible to receive paid family leave as of October 1.”

It goes on to say that there was an interpretation of ineligibility at DCPS, and the council approved clarifying legislation at the request of the mayor to include teachers.

It doesn’t matter to Topliffe how a compromise was reached; she’s thankful for the time.

“We made this compromise that I’d take a little bit of Family Medical Leave Act and then go back to work. Not really use the whole bonding time. … But now to hear it will be paid, it’s a weight off your shoulders,” Topliffe says.

Editor’s Note: Patty Topliffe is a friend of reporter Megan Cloherty who reached out to her about the paid family-leave policy in D.C.

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