‘I RESIGNED’: BLACKWELL SCHOOL TEACHER TRIES TO TAKE MATERNITY LEAVE, LOSES HER CLASSROOM
News 9 - August 21, 2023 6:53 am
BLACKWELL, Okla. –
Maternity leave helps new moms spend valuable time with their newborn babies. One Blackwell teacher said that’s exactly what she had planned for the beginning of the school year. However, her school district had plans to replace her with another teacher.
“I’ve always loved working with kids,” Curfman said. “I found out I was pregnant last year,” Curfman said.
Today, Scout occupies most of Curfman’s heart.
“He’s usually pretty chill,” Curfman said. “I was going to take my maternity leave starting at the beginning of next school year.”
Under the federal Family Medical Leave Act, Curfman could take up to 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave within the next year. Earlier this year, Oklahoma lawmakers passed a bill to give state employees six weeks of paid maternity leave after the birth or adoption of a child.
Curfman thought she was able to use her sick leave.
“I had all my time covered,” she said. “So, I didn’t have to do the unpaid leave.”
Curfman said she even fought through difficult days at work to preserve her sick time.
“I was in tears one day because I was in so much pain,” Curfman said.
Curfman said Elementary School Principal Jennifer Hankins told her she could use her sick leave.
“Obviously, a new mom, I wanna use my time off,” Curfman said. “It all kinda sounded great.”
Blackwell School District policy shows all paid leave, not associated with the Family Medical Leave Act, must be used first.
“Within six weeks it completely shifted,” Curfman said.
Blackwell Superintendent Shawn Haskins told Haley in an email that he was “wrong in telling [her] that [she] could use her sick leave for bonding time.” Haskins also said, “In [his] 25 years in school administration [he] has never had an employee request [maternity leave].”
Curfman expected to miss time inside her classroom. However, she didn’t expect to lose her classroom.
“I could still take maternity leave, but I was going to be forced out of my classroom for taking it,” Curfman said.
Oklahoma City attorney Ed Blau said he understands Haley’s frustration, but he also understands the school district’s position.
“This situation highlights the difficulty many women in the workforce have,” Blau said. “The school district also has a responsibility to the remaining students to make sure that they have a qualified teacher in place.”
By law, the district is allowed to move Haley laterally into a similar position.
“Her pay cannot be cut,” Blau said. “The position that she was in, she has to be put back in something similar within a reasonable period of time.”
Curfman said the district offered her a Kindergarten Reading Specialist position.
“I am not certified to teach kindergarten,” Curfman said.
The Oklahoma State Department of Education confirms Curfman is only certified to teach first through eighth grade. She said she didn’t consider this new position a demotion until her principal explained it to her.
“It was almost like she was downing the position she was wanting to put me in, saying it was gonna be an easier position, and it was gonna be less stressful as a new mom because there’s less students in the room at a time,” Curfman said.
Audio recordings Curfman sent to News 9 reveal the reason the district felt the need to hire a new full-time teacher. The district could not find a long-term substitute teacher to fill in for Haley until she could return. Haskins would not agree to an interview, but told News 9 he is “not allowed to discuss personal issues”, but that the district followed all “state and federal rules.”
“Legally it is a gray area, just morally, to me it’s just not right,” Curfman said. “A woman should not lose her position based on having a baby.”
Haskins also repeatedly told Haley he didn’t understand his own district policy.
“Yes,” Curfman said. “I did a lot of research myself.”
She took control at the end of the school year.
“I resigned,” Curfman said. “After eight years being with my team; being with everybody. I walked out the last day not being able to come back.”
A legal fight isn’t her end goal, but rather a conversation.
“I just couldn’t go back to a place where I was being treated like I didn’t matter,” Curfman said. “Put me aside. For future women, what are they supposed to feel?”
Haley won’t give up.
“Nope,” Curfman said. “It’s not in me to.”
Curfman plans to teach again.
“It’s burned in me to work with kids in one way, shape or form,” Curfman said.
Curfman believes a classroom should welcome a teacher back after they bring a new life into their home.
“One of my favorite quotes is ‘keep moving forward,’” Curfman said.