In an effort to help graduate students with children balance the demands of schoolwork and raising a child, the Rackham Graduate School has passed a policy granting time off to new parents.

The Graduate Student Parental Accommodation Policy, open to both male and female students, is open to those who are adopting children under the age of six or those expecting the birth of a child. It gives graduate students a six-week leave period with lightened deadlines and expectations so new parents can take more time to be with their children.

Darlene Ray-Johnson, director of Graduate Student Affairs, said the policy was originally drafted a year ago and officially took effect at the end of January.

Johnson said she spoke with focus groups consisting of students and program staff to understand student and staff concerns about balancing education and parenting.

Four focus groups agreed that Rackham needed a universal policy to accommodate graduate student parents. Johnson said they felt six weeks would give parents enough time to adjust to raising a new child while minimizing the interruption to class work.

To be eligible, parents must use the six-week leave immediately following their child’s birth or adoption.

Rackham student Annie Hesp, whose first child is due next month, said in an e-mail interview that the new policy would be helpful.

“For me, this policy provides peace of mind,” she said. “Simply by having a written policy, it means that I know what kind of support I can receive from the University.”

Hesp, a graduate student staff assistant, said the policy will have an effect on Rackham’s ability to hire graduate student instructors.

Previously, some GSIs lost their insurance coverage when they gave birth or took time off when their spouse was giving birth.

“That seems like quite a penalty for having a child,” Hesp said.

Hesp said the leave will let her focus her time on parenting without worrying about losing her job, insurance or finding daycare.

“It is almost impossible to find childcare for a newborn and the cost per month would be almost my whole salary,” Hesp said.

Hesp’s husband, fellow Rackham student Michael Layne, also qualifies for the leave time, but will not be taking it in full.

Johnson said Rackham is doing as much as possible to help student parents adjust, including creating a website with policy information and resources for expectant parents and hosting workshops for student parents.

“It’s a small piece of a policy,” Hesp said, “but it’s a huge step forward from what it used to be.”

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