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Quilting is not Geometry: Pregnant and Parenting Teens Deserve an Education Free from Discrimination

Tiseme Zegeye,
ACLU Women's Rights Project
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June 21, 2012

This Saturday marks the 40th anniversary of the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the landmark law that prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded education programs and activities. Among its other, better-known applications (for example, mandating equality in athletics), Title IX bans discrimination against pregnant and parenting students. Title IX’s regulations mandate that schools cannot apply school policies differently on the basis of sex based on marital or parental status, nor can a school discriminate against or exclude any person “on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, termination of pregnancy, or recovery therefrom.”

This week the National Women’s Law Center released a report, “A Pregnancy Test for Schools: The Impact of Education Laws on Pregnant and Parenting Students”, outlining the Constitutional, federal, and state protections for pregnant and parenting students, as well as the continued challenges and discrimination faced by pregnant and parenting students. The report details that students are often barred from classes and activities, penalized for absences related to pregnancy and child-care obligations, and refused homebound instruction. It also highlights Hicks v. Edsitty-Beach, a case brought by the ACLU of New Mexico and the ACLU-Women’s Rights Project, where we intervened to reinstate a pregnant student who was kicked out of school after disclosing that she was pregnant, and subsequently filed charges against the school after they publically humiliated her by announcing her pregnancy in a school-wide assembly.

The report also notes that pregnant and parenting girls are frequently pressured into unequal “alternative programs,” using New York City’s former alternative schools for pregnant and parenting girls as one example “marked by abysmal test scores, poor attendance and inadequate facilities”. A New York Timesreporter attended a math class at one of these schools, where the girls were quilting, rather than studying. The principal’s excuse? As the girls were cutting out shapes, “it ties into geometry.” Thankfully, in 2007, New York City closed the alternative schools and integrated teen pregnancy services into the mainstream schools under pressure by the NYCLU, among other groups.

The push-out of teen parents has devastating effects: one-third of teen mothers will never get a high school diploma or G.E.D. Shockingly, fewer than two percent of teen mothers will receive a college degree by the age of 30. However, the law is on our side: many of these practices are prohibited by Title IX, and could be largely eliminated with better enforcement, education, and policy reforms. The NWLC report provides a state-by-state evaluation of state laws that help or harm pregnant and parenting students, along with recommendations for federal and state policy makers, and for schools and districts, in addition to resources for pregnant and parenting students.

As we celebrate Title IX’s 40th anniversary, let’s make sure we hold schools accountable and let students know of their right to an education free from discrimination.

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