Back to school time may not necessarily bring to mind a picture of a pregnant girl, but the reality is a growing number of our students will face pregnancy sometime in their academic career. To coincide with the start of a new school year, the National Women’s Law Center is re-releasing its comprehensive new report that shows that schools across the country are failing to meet the needs of pregnant and parenting students.
The report finds that schools still bar pregnant students from activities, kick them out of school, push them into alternative programs and penalize them for pregnancy-related absences, all of which violate Title IX—the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education—and increase the risk that they will drop out of school. Recently, we were outraged over a Louisiana school’s policy of forcing students suspected of being pregnant to take a pregnancy test or get kicked out of school should they either refuse or are pregnant. This is just the latest example of such drastic failures. It wasn’t until the school faced a demand letter from the American Civil Liberties Union and public pressure that it backed off its practice–and not before the lives of a handful of students were already affected.
The NWLC report examines the education laws and regulations in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico and ranks them based on the extent to which their laws and policies help this vulnerable student population succeed. The majority of states have few or no laws, policies or programs specifically designed to improve outcomes for these students. Our schools can do better and our students deserve better.
The Center’s state-by-state ranking shows that the best states that offer support for these students are California, Florida, Oregon, North Carolina and Wisconsin; the worst are Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nevada and Nebraska. The rankings, while surprising in some respects, also illustrate the patchwork nature of these laws, a fact that standing alone shows the structural challenges facing pregnant and parenting students.
Title IX protections for pregnant and parenting students are so crucial, especially since often it is only the girls and women that bear the costs and consequences of a pregnancy. Without those protections young women and girls would face almost certain poverty with less opportunity to climb out of it than had their education remain stable and accessible during their pregnancy and as parents themselves.
The economic gains women have made over the past forty years are in large part due to the protections and opportunities of Title IX. Now it is time to make sure our most vulnerable students receive the benefit of those protections as well.
Photo from stevendepolo via flickr.
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