Saturday, November 10, 2012

At the District Level

A week after meeting with the principal I sent the following to everyone in the superintendent's office, each person in legal services, and all of the board members:
I have recently become aware that AISD does not have a policy in place that protects the rights of nursing mothers on school campuses. I am writing to urge the district to adopt a written policy that is in compliance with Texas law.

The way in which I came to know of the lack of a policy was a deeply upsetting one for me. On September 5th near 9am I was in the deserted lobby of my sons' elementary school, where my middle child is in drop-in speech therapy. I sat on a bench with my tired, hungrily fussing baby, waiting for therapy to end and my son to be brought back to me in the lobby at 9. I nursed my baby to sleep. I was, as I always am, very discreet. Occasionally someone would pass me on their way into the office. It was about a handful of people in all, most of them not likely to be aware that I was breastfeeding and not merely holding a sleeping infant.

A teacher noticed, though, and complained to the principal. I was confronted by (the principal) and told to move to her private conference room, as though by feeding my baby I was doing something shameful. I declined. I walked home a little while later fighting tears.

I wrote to our principal, explaining how our encounter had made me feel, expressing concern at how it could impact a mother less comfortable with public breastfeeding. I shared the benefits of breastfeeding and informed her of the law.

The law, of course, is what is most relevant.

Sec. 165.002. RIGHT TO BREAST-FEED. A mother is entitled to breast-feed her baby in any location in which the mother is authorized to be.

The law exists because legislators have already been convinced of the merits of breastfeeding and the importance of supporting nursing mothers.

Upon inquiry, AISD's practice was expressed to me as follows:
"AISD employs a policy, DEA (LEGAL), embodied in State statute, regarding breaks for nursing mothers. The policy itself addresses the rights of employees to express breast milk for one year after a child's birth, and further ensures that the District provide a location, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view from intrusion from coworkers and the public for such purpose. This, and other policies regarding parental rights as to their children and student privacy rights, have established a long-standing practice in AISD to provide a location, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view by others, to allow a parent the right to breast feed on campus, if necessary. The Campus Principal is vested with the discretion to identify a suitable location on campus for such activity."
However, compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act does not effect compliance with the entitlement to breastfeed where ever a mother is authorized to be.

In fact, to insist a breastfeeding mother be shielded from view is precisely the opposite of conforming to a law that is intended to protect her from being harassed for feeding her child. AISD's practice puts principals and the schools and district at risk of garnering negative media attention and even litigation. It may seem to some like the balancing of rights, where some women need to feed their babies but some families find publicly nurturing a child to be "inappropriate," however that view fails to recognize that only the nursing mother has a legally protected right in this situation. Breastfeeding is not lewd, it is not sexual in nature, and it is not inappropriate. It is not something which children need to be protected from. And any opinion to the contrary does not have legal protection.

I may speak at the school board meeting next month, but I am eager for a more speedy resolution. As a stay-at-home mother I am able to spend a good deal of time at our school, and these past two and a half weeks, every minute there, or even thinking about being there, has been anxiety-ridden. No new mother should have to feel this way, and no mother should be forced to choose between being involved or visiting her older child(ren) at school and feeding her baby in the best way possible, by breastfeeding as soon as (s)he is hungry, without delay to hide away

I share with you now the letter I sent to (the principal), because in reading it I hope to convince you that by enacting a pro-breastfeeding policy, you are not only deferring to the law, you are also doing what is morally right.
(insert Letter to Principal here)
Thank you for your time, and I look forward to your reply.

Krisdee Donmoyer

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