Pregnant students need to be treated the same as other students, shouldn't have to provide medical certification that they can be in school, and have absences related to their pregnancy excused, the U.S. Department of Education said in a letter to school districts today.
"By ensuring that the student has the opportunity to maintain her academic status, we can encourage young parents to work toward graduation instead of choosing to drop out of school," wrote Seth Galanter, the acting assistant secretary of the office for civil rights, in the letter.
And when students return to school after pregnancy, they must be allowed to return to the same academic and extracurricular activities as before they left, Galanter said.
The message to districts, colleges, and universities also included this pamphlet on supporting the academic needs of pregnant and parenting students and a directory of local Education Department offices for civil rights, which can provide technical assistance.
Last year was the 40th anniversary of the federal Title IX law, which provides for equal opportunities for all students. For many pregnant and parenting students, keeping access to the same school options they had prior to pregnancy remains a huge challenge.
As recently as 2011, Michigan had a law banning pregnant students from getting the same at-home educational services as students who might be unable to attend school for any other medical condition. Georgia had a similar law until 2009.
The National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education outlined some of the other challenges pregnant and parenting teens have faced on the 40th anniversary of Title IX.
In the letter, Galanter said that 26 percent of young men and young women combined who had dropped out of public high schools, and a third of young women, said that becoming a parent was a major factor in their decision to leave school. Only 51 percent of young women who had a child before age 20 earned their high school diploma by age 22.
And things only get worse from there: Only 2 percent of young women who had a child before turning 18 earned a college degree by 30.
"This low education attainment means that young parents are more likely than their peers to be unemployed or underemployed, and the ones who do find jobs will, on average, earn significantly less than their peers," he wrote.
Over the last four years, the office for civil rights said it had received 59 complaints about violations of the rights of pregnant and parenting teens.
"Pregnant and parenting students have always been protected under Title IX, but this guidance provides much-needed clarification and concrete steps schools must take to support these students," Lisa Maatz, the vice president of government relations for the American Assocation of University Women. "AAUW is pleased that the Department of Education has made it abundantly clear that schools may not deny mothers and fathers educational opportunities that are provided to other students."