By Nicole Saphier, Marc Siegel
Published May 10, 2019
We won’t fault you if you have trouble believing this troubling story. In San Francisco, a second-grade Glen Park Elementary school teacher with breast cancer will have to cover the cost of a substitute teacher while she’s on leave to receive treatment because of an inhumane 1976 change to the California education law.
Keep in mind that San Francisco is a very expensive city to live in, with affordable housing hard to come by, and teachers are not well paid. The average teacher’s salary is just over $80,000 per.
This particular teacher is reportedly quite popular, having taught at the school for 17 years. Luckily, a GoFundMe page has already raised $13,000 to help defray her expenses. The teacher wishes to remain anonymous to preserve her privacy.
But money is not enough to overcome the emotional trauma of not only a sudden breast cancer diagnosis in a young woman, but also the financial worry that California is afflicting her with. If the trauma of a cancer diagnosis and the associated costs aren’t enough, our prized educators in San Francisco are seeing an additional strain.
Each year in the United States, about 237,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women and about 2,100 in men. The costs associated with breast cancer treatment and follow-up care can be a financial strain for some people and their families.
Many people struggle with the inability to afford treatment and end up making some difficult decisions, including cutting prescriptions, not going to their doctor, and not getting preventive services, all of which may reduce the cost of future care and loss of productivity.
All teachers in the San Francisco United School District receive 10 paid days of medical leave annually. If further time off is necessary, they can get take up to another 100 sick days. However, it will cost them.
Under a 1976 California law, the cost for the substitute teacher will be deducted from the teacher's salary. The average daily cost of a substitute teacher in San Francisco is approximately $203 and in 2018, the average teacher salary in the same school district, excluding benefits, was about $82,000.
When a woman is faced with a breast cancer diagnosis, there are many steps in the treatment process depending on the stage at which the cancer was diagnosed. Often, the treatment course will require imaging, biopsies, consultations, surgeries, radiation and at times, chemotherapy.
The timeline of such treatment can be as little as a few weeks up to 6 to 8 months.
While California Gov. Gavin Newsom is busy clamoring for single-payer health insurance, there is no health insurance program that could possibly save this teacher and those like her from the costs associated with reimbursing the district for their substitute teaching.
Instead of showing concern for this troubling problem, Newsom, in his revised state budget released this week, proposed a record-$213.5 billion spending plan for the next fiscal year, which includes money to fund health care for undocumented immigrants, as well as $1.75 billion to help boost housing production statewide and $1 billion to fight homelessness.
Here's our message for the governor: What about your teachers and the children they are teaching? Would you want your own child’s teacher docked pay for being sick with breast cancer?
Governor, how can you ignore your state’s educators who are given the great responsibility of caring for your children during their formative years and allow them to be penalized for their cancer care while at the same time focusing your expanding budget on the care of undocumented immigrants and the homeless?