New school rules for pregnant teens

Legal Services of Eastern Michigan monitors new regulations and discovered that these new guidelines will try to make sure that pregnant teens are treated like everyone else in the classroom.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is handing them out to school administrators, teachers, counselors, parents and students.

The guidelines are part of a plan to help improve the high school and college graduation rates of young parents and to help President Obama obtain his goal to have the U.S. lead the world by 2020 with the highest number of people graduating from college, said officials at Flint-based Legal Services, a non-profit law firm that offers free civil legal assistance to low-income people.

The guidelines support Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

They prohibit discrimination based on sex in all public and private schools that receive federal financial assistance.

They protect pregnant and parenting students against discrimination in academic, educational, extracurricular, athletic and other programs or activities.

“Pregnancy is one of the most common reasons female students give for dropping out of high school,” says Legal Services of Eastern Michigan Attorney Lindsey Lavine.

“We want to make sure pregnant young women and young fathers are treated fairly in school and are encouraged to continue their education,” Lavine said in a statement.

In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than 329,000 young women in the U.S. aged 15-to-19 had babies.

A 2006 report that surveyed 467 students aged 16-to-25 found that 26-percent of both young men and women and a third of the women all said becoming a parent was a major factor in their leaving school.

The U.S. Department of Education’s guidelines state that schools must treat pregnant students the same way they treat other students in similar situations, in other words any special services provided to students who have temporary medical conditions must also be provided to pregnant students.

Schools may also be required to provide other things like a larger desk, allow frequent trips to the bathroom and permit temporary access to elevators.

The guidelines also state that any student’s absences because of pregnancy or childbirth must be excused for as long as the student’s doctor says it’s medically necessary.

When a student returns to school after having the baby, she must be allowed to return to the same academic and extracurricular status as before her medical leave began.

Below are some questions and answers regarding these new regulations.

– May a school require a pregnant student to participate in a separate program for pregnant students?

No. Any such requirement would violate Title IX. A school may offer separate programs or schools for a pregnant student, but participation in those programs or schools must be completely voluntary. A school may provide information to its students about the availability of an alternative program, but it may not pressure a pregnant student to attend that program. A pregnant student must be allowed to remain in her regular classes and school if she so chooses.

– May a school require a pregnant student to obtain a doctor’s permission before allowing her to attend school late in her pregnancy if the school is worried about the student’s health or safety?

Schools cannot require a pregnant student to produce a doctor’s note in order to stay in school or participate in activities, including interscholastic sports, unless the same requirement to obtain a doctor’s note applies to all students being treated by a doctor.

– Can harassing a student because of pregnancy violate Title IX?

Yes. Title IX prohibits harassment of students based on sex, including harassment because of pregnancy or related conditions. Harassing conduct can take many forms, including verbal acts and name-calling, graphic and written statements, and other conduct that may be humiliating or physically threatening or harmful. Particular actions that could constitute prohibited harassment

– Does a school have to excuse a student’s absences due to pregnancy or childbirth?

Yes. Title IX requires a school to excuse a student’s absences due to pregnancy or related conditions, including recovery from childbirth, for as long as the student’s doctor deems the absences to be medically necessary.

– Does a school need to provide special services to a pregnant student?

Title IX requires a school to provide the same special services to a pregnant student that it provides to students with temporary medical conditions. For example, if a school provides at-home instruction or tutoring to students who miss school because of temporary medical conditions, it must do the same for a student who misses school because of pregnancy or childbirth.

– What if some teachers at a school have their own policies about class attendance and make-up work?

Every school that receives federal financial assistance is bound by Title IX. Schools must ensure that the policies and practices of individual teachers do not discriminate against pregnant students. For example, a teacher may not refuse to allow a student to submit work after a deadline that she missed because of absences due to pregnancy or childbirth.

– What procedures must a school district have in place related to discrimination on the basis of sex, including discrimination related to pregnancy and parental status?

School districts must adopt and publish grievance procedures for students to file complaints of sex discrimination, including discrimination related to pregnancy or parental status. The grievance process should provide a mechanism for school districts to investigate and evaluate complaints and must provide for prompt and equitable resolution of complaints.

– In addition to allowing a pregnant student to attend classes, does a school need to allow her to participate in school clubs, class activities, interscholastic sports, and other school-sponsored organizations?

Yes. Title IX prohibits a school from excluding a pregnant student from any part of its educational program, including all extracurricular activities, such as school clubs, academic societies, honors programs, homecoming court, or interscholastic sports. A pregnant student must also be eligible to hold leadership positions in these activities.

Acting assistant Secretary for Civil Rights for the U.S. Department of Education Seth Galanter says “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.”

“Not all schools have done much in the past to protect pregnant teens from discrimination,” says Lavine. “Hopefully this will ensure that they are treated appropriately and that they get the support they need to stay in school and go on to college.”