The state's largest teachers union supports adding benefits for parents who suffer pregnancy loss, infertility, adoption challenges and other setbacks affecting would-be parents.

Sample contract language amending bereavement benefits was endorsed by the New Jersey Education Association after it was developed by the New Jersey nonprofit Start Healing Together

The group supports teachers and educators experiencing pregnancy loss and infertility by providing information, instruction, and support to help alleviate the stigmas.

The advocacy work started after its founder, Jackie Mancinelli, of Washington Township in Gloucester County, suffered devastating losses.

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In 2014, Mancinelli said she and her husband were excited to start a family. Pregnancy loss was never in the wheelhouse of thoughts swirling around her mind, she said. But then, her first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage.

Then, she got pregnant the following year. Mancinelli carried her son, Richard until nearly 34 weeks. After an emergency delivery in 2016, baby Richard died shortly after his birth.

It was another devastating loss for Mancinelli and her husband, one that took a toll on her physically, emotionally, and mentally.

Coping with her loss and grief, plus being a high school English teacher at Eastern High School in Voorhees, and seeing her teacher friends, and students who were all a part of her pregnancy journey, grieve as well for the loss of Richard took a toll on her, Mancinelli said.

What is the goal of Start Healing Together?

After working with her teachers’ union, Mancinelli realized certain support services did not exist yet.

“So, I started Start Healing Together as a way to support other educators like myself who are in that same position, and really advocate for rights in the workplace,” Mancinelli said.

Teaching is a female-dominant profession. Pregnancy loss is 1 in 4. She said that’s a high percentage of educators who are experiencing pregnancy loss but suffer in silence.

Start Healing Together focuses on the bargaining contract language. That means focusing on updating bereavement leave in contracts to include all types of pregnancy loss from a chemical pregnancy to infant loss, all types of failed fertility treatments, and adoption law.

“It’s really important that that language is black and white in the contract so that those particular days are not taken away from sick leave or personal leave and it can be part of the bereavement process because these are legitimate losses that need time to grieve,” Mancinelli said.

In memory of Richard Mancinelli (Photo Credit: Apiary Photography)
In memory of Richard Mancinelli (Photo Credit: Apiary Photography)

What else does the nonprofit work to do?

The nonprofit works on educator plans that are individualized. For example, if there is an educator who is going through infertility treatments, it makes sure the union representatives and the administrators receive training so they are well-educated on infertility and what that includes, as well as how to provide support in the workplace.

An individualized plan is created for that educator based on their needs, workplace, and what kind of support they need while going through those infertility treatments, she said.

If there is an educator who went through a pregnancy loss and is now returning to work, Start Healing Together creates an individualized support plan so they are supported when they return. Mancinelli added that if there’s anything they’re anxious or nervous about, the organization makes sure the students, administrators, and co-workers are prepared.

What is the new bereavement leave contract language?

In July 2022, Mancinelli attended the National Education Association Representative Assembly to propose the new bereavement leave language.

The language was approved, passing with a vote of 84% in favor.

Bereavement Leave Language

An employee or expectant parent, spouse, and/or partner who suffers a pregnancy loss (including, but not limited to, chemical pregnancy, ectopic pregnancy, molar pregnancy, miscarriage, Terminated for Medical Reasons (TFMR), stillbirth, neonatal loss), shall be eligible for bereavement leave. An employee or expectant parent, spouse, and/or partner who suffers a failed fertility treatment (including, but not limited to Intrauterine Insemination (IUI), Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART), and surrogacy loss) shall be eligible for bereavement leave. An employee, spouse, and/or partner who suffers a failed adoption shall be eligible for bereavement leave.

In New Jersey Only: Autumn Joy Stillbirth Research and Dignity Act of NJ state that a pregnancy loss at 20 weeks or later meets the threshold for mandatory reporting of death statistics in the state.

That means that you can use this language to “define a child” when arguing for bereavement leave. This may change in the near future for the United States if the SHINE for Autumn Act passes in the Senate.

In May 2023, the NEA will be rolling out this language to all 50 states as endorsed contract language

The NJEA has also endorsed this language as well. It’s in the collective bargaining agreement that’s given to every single local association.

“Right now I have nearly 30 locations across the country as well as Canada and the U.K. that are working to bring this language into their contracts,” Mancinelli said.

The first place this was ratified was Oklahoma in September.

Currently, Mancinelli is working with educators across New Jersey, and in Pennsylvania and California.

Jackie Mancinelli (Photo Credit: Apiary Photography)
Jackie Mancinelli (Photo Credit: Apiary Photography)

What has she found in this "loss community"?

Mancinelli, also a New Jersey ambassador for Count the Kicks, an evidence-based stillbirth prevention campaign, said those parents in the loss community are the strongest parents you’ll ever meet.

“They are an incredible inspiration. We help one another. After parenting my living children, I want to be able to parent my son in some way. I want to make sure people know his name, they know his story, and know how loved he is, and continues to be, even though we’re nearing seven years since his birth,” Mancinelli said.

Mancinelli continues to work alongside her vice president, George Kemery, also an English teacher at Eastern High School.

She said when she and her husband lost baby Richard, Kemery was an incredible support for the couple both inside and outside of work.

Start Healing Together can accept donations on their website. More information and donations can also be made on their Instagram and Facebook social media pages.

After losing two children, one through a miscarriage, and the other shortly after birth, Mancinelli and her husband are the proud parents of two “rainbow” daughters, ages 3 and 5.

She said just like a rainbow comes after a storm, one also arrives after a loss.

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