When Monica Howell gave birth to her daughter Celeste earlier this year, the Miami-Dade school teacher knew she wanted to breastfeed for as long as possible.
On her first day back in the classroom after maternity leave, Howell carried a new set of supplies: an electronic breast pump, ice packs and storage containers for her milk.
She met with her assistant principal to schedule the times she planned to pump.
"Her reply to me was, 'Absolutely not, we cannot accommodate breastfeeding mothers,'” Howell said.
Howell had been sure she was protected under the federal law, Break Time for Nursing Mothers. But she discovered those federal protections only apply to hourly workers, leaving an estimated 12 million salaried employees unprotected -- including teachers.
About half the states have policies relating to nursing moms at work. Florida is not one of them.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools is the fourth largest school district in the nation. Eighty percent of its teachers are women and the teachers' union is fighting for a policy that would allow lactating teachers to pump their breast milk.
“It’s sad that a predominantly woman workforce will not allow women to do this, or will only encourage certain women to do this,” says Karla Hernández-Mats, the teachers’ union treasurer and a breast-feeding mom.
School officials say while there is no written policy, individual schools typically allow teachers to pump on the job.
“It’s worked out better almost for everyone to be able to work it out school by school,” says Gloria Arazoza, an administrative director in the district’s office of labor relations.
But teachers argue they are at the whim of administrators who may not always support them.
The school board passed an item “to encourage principals” to accommodate nursing moms but says the issue has to be taken up during collective bargaining. No session has been scheduled to negotiate it.
Miami Herald staff writer Christina Veiga contributed to this report.