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Pregnant Girls Pushed Out of School

The story last week from Delhi Charter School in Louisiana--girls being forced to undergo pregnancy tests, then booted if they were indeed pregnant--was another in a series of school-based civil rights outrages that have become increasingly familiar, in the wave of education privatization sweeping across the country. Thanks to Fatima Goss Graves of the National Women's Law Center for sharing these facts about teen moms and the law:

(August 10, 2012) Disturbing news surfaced this week about a policy at Delhi Charter School in Richland Parish, Louisiana that required female students "suspected of being FGG.jpgpregnant" to take pregnancy tests. According to a school official, over the past six years, the school kicked at least a "handful" of students out of school when the tests came back positive.

A Delhi school board member told the Associated Press that the school "didn't know their policy was illegal." Title IX--the landmark federal law that bans sex discrimination in schools--was passed forty years ago. For decades now, sex discrimination has been understood to include pregnancy discrimination. It is unacceptable that in 2012 so few lawmakers, school officials and teachers know that Title IX prohibits discrimination against pregnant and parenting students.

If a student is pregnant, a school is not allowed to kick her out, transfer her to an alternative program against her will or penalize her for pregnancy-related absences. Title IX requires that all separate programs for pregnant and parenting students be completely voluntary and offer opportunities equivalent to those offered to non-pregnant students.

Notwithstanding the blatant discrimination in Delhi, Louisiana, pregnant and parenting teens across the country face steep barriers to stay in school and graduate. According to a study by Child Trends released in 2010, only about 50% of teen mothers receive a high school diploma by the age of 22. Nearly one-third of teenage mothers never earn a G.E.D. or a diploma.

Why aren't young mothers graduating? Parenthood is not the end of the road for teen moms. Quite the contrary, motherhood can serve as an educational motivator for many young women. Studies show that regardless of their relationship to school before pregnancy, the majority of teen moms describe new educational goals as they anticipate motherhood. Rather than a harbinger of doom, teen parents can view this challenge as a constructive wake-up call. Educators should work with young parents to help them continue their studies and graduate on time.

Unfortunately, that proactive approach is not routinely practiced. A recent report by the National Women's Law Center uncovers a systemic failure: districts across the country bar pregnant and parenting students from activities, kick them out of school, pressure them to attend alternative programs, and penalize them for pregnancy-related absences--all in violation of Title IX. Often these students don't know the law protects them, so they resign themselves to the mistreatment and drop out of school.

Alarming dropout numbers, coupled with the Center's findings, show that far from being an anomaly, the Delhi policy is simply the tip of the iceberg. If we as a nation want to address the dropout crisis, we must address discrimination against pregnant and parenting students. This is a critical first step to keeping these young women in school and securing a better future for them and their children.

Fatima Goss Graves is Vice President for Education and Employment at the National Women's Law Center, where she works to promote the rights of women and girls at school and in the workplace. Ms. Goss Graves advocates and litigates core legal and policy issues relating to at-risk girls in school, including those that impact pregnant and parenting students, students in a hostile school climate and students participating in athletics.

Since 1972, the National Women's Law Center has expanded the possibilities for women and girls by focusing on issues that cut to the core of women's lives in education, employment, family and economic security, and health and reproductive rights--with special attention given to the needs of low-income women and their families.

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