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New West school board agrees to new parental leave policy

School trustees will be entitled to six-month paid leave following the birth or adoption of a child
Mom with baby working on computer
If any prospective parents want to run for New Westminster school board, they no longer have to wonder how they'd juggle having a baby and serving as a trustee. The board has agreed to a new parental leave policy.

New Westminster school trustees have given the green light to a new maternity and parental leave policy for board members.

Trustee Mark Gifford brought the proposal to the table at the school board’s operations committee meeting on Tuesday night, winning unanimous support from his fellow board members.

Under the new policy, trustees – regardless of gender – will be entitled to a six-month paid leave following the birth or adoption of a child.

“There’s a couple of reasons behind this. One is just trying to model in the district family-friendly policy for current or future trustees who might need this time to prioritize family,” Gifford said.

He said that, although the School Act provides some discretion around leave, something like maternity or parental leave is best not left up to the will of a chair or board. Instead, he said, it should be embedded in policy.

Another reason to adopt the policy now, Gifford said, is the local election coming this October. He said he doesn’t want the lack of parental leave to be a barrier for any community member who might want to run for office.

“I want to be able to support that for community members that might be thinking of starting a family but not wanting to have the expectations and responsibilities of a trustee to interfere with that,” he said.

Gifford’s proposal won support around the table.

“I think it is a really important piece around equity and ensuring that everybody can participate as board members,” Maya Russell said.

Russell, who has in the past taken a leave from her board duties for family reasons, suggested the board might want to consider expanding the leave policy to encompass such issues as elder care or family crises.

Trustee Mary Lalji, who has also taken a past leave for medical reasons, said it would be helpful to have policies around family emergencies and medical leaves in writing.

But board chair Gurveen Dhaliwal suggested more work should be done on the details of other types of leaves, rather than simply incorporating them into Gifford’s proposed policy.

Trustee Anita Ansari agreed, saying she supported the parental leave policy as presented.

“I think that maternity and leave policies really make board work more inclusive. By inclusive, I mean it increases the participation of underrepresented groups, and young parents in political office are an underrepresented group,” she said.

She suggested other trustees could bring back more details about expanded leave policies at a later date – a task both Russell and Lalji said they would be happy to take on.

The new parental leave policy must now be adopted by the full school board, which next meets Jan. 25. (The same trustees sit on both the operations committee and the school board.)

Follow Julie MacLellan on Twitter @juliemaclellan.
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