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Teacher with cancer has to pay for her substitute — and it’s true across California

A San Francisco teacher on leave with breast cancer must pay her substitute’s wages because of California law. Educators don’t get state disability insurance benefits, but can get wages for five months of leave minus the cost of a sub, according to state law.
A San Francisco teacher on leave with breast cancer must pay her substitute’s wages because of California law. Educators don’t get state disability insurance benefits, but can get wages for five months of leave minus the cost of a sub, according to state law. Screen grab from NBC Bay Area

The California law forcing a teacher with cancer to pay for her own substitute shocked parents and students — but it wasn’t much of a surprise to teachers themselves.

Parents were outraged and incredulous — like, this can’t be,” said Amanda Fried, a parent with kids at San Francisco’s Glen Park Elementary, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “There must be some mistake.”

But according to KQED, which first reported the teacher’s story earlier this month, the rule is part of state law and applies to educators across California. A district spokesperson said $195 is being taken from the teacher’s daily wages to cover the cost of the substitute, NBC Bay Area reports.

“The teachers have sort of shrugged — like, yes, that’s how it is,” Fried said of their response, according to the Chronicle. “That makes it even more sad, because teachers expect to be treated poorly.”

Teachers in the state don’t contribute to California’s disability insurance program and therefore don’t get to draw from it, BuzzFeed reports. In practical terms, that means once teachers use up the 10 sick days they get each year, they can take five months of extended leave with an illness — but must cover the cost of a substitute in their classroom during that period, according to the California Education Code. The money is deducted directly from the teachers’ salaries.

The teacher asked to remain anonymous to protect her privacy, the Chronicle and KGO report.

A GoFundMe page for the second-grade teacher has already raised more than $13,000 — enough to pay for a substitute through the end of this school year, according to NBC Bay Area. That fundraising page said the teacher has already had one surgery and will need another before standard treatment can start. In the meantime, she’s stayed in touch with her students.

“Her dedication and love for her students can’t be understated,” the fundraising page said. “Just a few days after her surgery, she took the time to write out 22 completely personalized notes to the students in the class thanking them for their support, telling them she missed them dearly and encouraging them to continue working hard.”

A spokesperson for the California Department of Education referred questions about the policy to the teachers’ union and district, the Chronicle reports.

“We’d love to change it but we’re working under a public school system that’s been financially on starvation,” said Eric Heins, president of the California Teachers Association, according to KGO.

The school district said it’s not a local problem, according to BuzzFeed.

“This is not unique to San Francisco,” said Laura Dudnick, a district spokesperson, according to BuzzFeed. “It is in the [Education] Code. This is not a district-only rule.”

Dudnick added that “they are receiving paid sick leave during these 100 days; it’s just the amount is based on the teacher’s day rate minus the substitute cost,” BuzzFeed reports.

Parents were shocked nonetheless.

“She’s an incredible teacher and that’s not fair,” Elia Hernandez said, according to KGO. “That’s crazy!”

Kids at the school are working on a bake sale to benefit the teacher, the Chronicle reports.

This story has been corrected to reflect that the teacher’s story was first reported by KQED, not the Chronicle

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