More Than They Tell Us: Our Rights as Pregnant and Parenting Students
By Rebecca Trotzky-Sirr
It’s hard enough to stay in school as a mama, but if your school is discriminating against pregnant and parenting students it can be damn near impossible. If you are pregnant or parenting, you have a right to stay in school. More than that, under federal laws like Title IX, pregnant and parenting students are protected from discrimination at any public school, or at any school that receives government funding (like many colleges, universities, and private schools.) It’s important that we educate our school and our teachers about our rights, so that it can be made as easy as possible for us to stay in school throughout the challenges of pregnancy and parenting. If we work together with our classmates to recognize discrimination and defend our educational rights, we can make that much easier for the next mama to graduate from school. Below are examples of the rights of all pregnant and parenting students:
You have the RIGHT to stay in school in your regular class while you are pregnant and after you have your baby. If your school claims that you have to move to a special program, they are violating federal and state law. Your school cannot legally force you into a special education program, unless YOU decide that you want to.
You have the RIGHT to participate in all school and extracurricular activities like sports, honors societies, or a drama club. Your school cannot single you out to demand a letter from your doctor before letting you participate. If other students don’t have to have a note from the doctor to participate in an activity, you don’t have to have one either.
If you choose to, you can participate in a special program for parenting or pregnant students. No one can force you into these programs. These programs must be comparable to the regular academic programs for students who aren’t pregnant or parenting. That means the special parenting program must have the same quality and selection of classes, qualifications for teachers, same availability and quality of textbooks, same quality of classrooms, and offer the same number of credits for classes as the standard program. If the educational standards for such programs are not up to par, demand your right to an equal education. If you are in a separate program for parenting and pregnant students and you want to take an advanced class or a one that needs special facilities (like honors chemistry with a lab) and this class is not offered through your program, you must be allowed to take the class where it is offered even if it’s not through your program.
You have the RIGHT to have excused absences for health issues related to your pregnancy and childbirth. Your school cannot automatically fail or in anyway punish you for health related absences if you have a note from your doctor.
Your school must provide you with accommodations for any health issues related to your pregnancy, if they provide similar accommodations for sick students. For example, if you have morning sickness or need frequent access to a bathroom later in your pregnancy you should be able to have a permanent hall pass. Or you can have a longer pass time between classes if you’re having trouble moving quickly due to your pregnancy. If your doctor says so, your school must change your gym requirements so it’s safe for you during pregnancy.
If you are bedridden or recovering at home for an extended amount of time after childbirth, you have the RIGHT to have tutoring at home if this option is available to other students (like the football player who broke his leg, or a student recovering from surgery.)
You have the RIGHT to receive make-up assignments from your teachers to make-up time that you were out of school due to your pregnancy if make-up assignments are offered to any other students who miss a class.You have the RIGHT to return to your class after childbirth at the same academic standing or level.
Mothers and fathers cannot be treated differently from each other. For example, if your school won’t give you an excused absence for taking care of your sick kid, your school will negatively impact student mothers more than student fathers because mothers more often take care of their sick kids. Denying students excused absences for caring for their sick kids may violate federal law that says that women and men must be treated equally.
A teacher cannot decide against giving you a recommendation because you are pregnant or parenting.
A teacher cannot grade you any differently because you are pregnant or parenting.
A teacher must make the classroom a safe and comfortable space for you. A teacher must act to stop harassment and teasing from other students because you are pregnant.You cannot be treated any differently if you decide to have an abortion.
If your school offers health-care to other students, prenatal care must be also available to you.
The above are example of our rights under Title IX, a federal law that prohibits discrimination of women in the educational system. If your school or school district fails to respect your rights, they are in violation of the law. If your school violates the law, they could lose their government funding.
If you think that you are being discriminated against because you are pregnant or parenting, you can contact:
The National Women’s Law Center
11 Dupont Circle, NW
Washington DC 20036
They can provide you with legal information.
You could also try meeting with your school and taking matters into your own hands. I am currently writing an organizing guide for high school and college parenting students, so please share your stories—both good and bad—with me (firstname.lastname@example.org.)
For more information about Title IX and your rights a particularly helpful source is: http://www.capd.org/home/services/teenparents/ta_adds/weblist13.pdf
Your education is your RIGHT.