Pregnancies at School
Each year in the United States about 400,000 girls between age 15 and 19 give birth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is a rate of 34 per 1,000. As they experience pregnancy and parenthood, these girls often struggle to finish high school. Only half of teenage mothers earn their high school diploma or GED, compared with 89% of women who don’t have a child during their teenage years, according to a National Women’s Law center Title IX fact sheet. High rates of teenage pregnancy, budget deficits, the need for Title IX compliance, and the desire to assist pregnant and parenting students present lawmakers and citizens with a dilemma.
Title IX, the 1972 civil rights law that is usually associated with ensuring equality for all students when playing sports, addresses other aspects of educational equality, including the rights of pregnant students.Advocates of pregnant and parenting students’ rights argue that school districts often do not comply with Title IX regulations for these students. Under Title IX, schools must allow pregnant and parenting students to continue in mainstream educational programs, and any optional separate programs must be on a par with the conventional opportunities offered to other students. Districts must also grant the same exceptions and accommodations to pregnant students as are offered to other students with temporary disabilities, such as the opportunity to make up missed work.
Some schools penalize or even kick out students who become pregnant, often forbidding them to serve in leadership roles or punishing them for “unexcused” absences that are related to pregnancy and childbirth. An AP story titled “Study: Pregnant Teens Need Better School Support” cites that, “In almost half of the states . . . the definition of excused absences is not broad enough to include pregnant and parenting students. That typically results in a patchwork of policies where some school districts don’t excuse absences even if the student is in the hospital giving birth.” (11-22-2012)
Education Week reported that, until 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. The National Women’s Law Center in Washington worked on undoing that ban and one in Georgia in 2009.” (06-13-2012)
Many school districts that offer support to pregnant and parenting students have been forced to slash their programs due to budget restraints. One such program, the New Heights Teen Parent Program in Washington, D.C. offers about 600 students accountability, homework assistance, and help with childcare, housing, and parenting skills. But the AP reports, “the $1.6 million federal grant funding the program runs out next year and officials said they don’t have a clear future funding source.”
Champions of such programs claim that they would save taxpayers money in the long run as they have reduced the rate of recurring pregnancies and the mothers’ dependence on welfare. Critics argue that the presence of such accommodations as daycare centers in high schools promotes the acceptance and prevalence of teen pregnancies. Such accommodations present a stark contrast to the days when pregnant students were treated as social pariahs and forced to drop out, which some argue used to serve as a deterrent to teenage pregnancies.
Pro-life advocates argue that supporting teenage mothers throughout their pregnancies, parenting, and education is a way to prevent abortions and save taxpayers money. Planned Parenthood’s (PP) annual report, released January 2013, announced that the organization’s affiliated clinics performed 333,964 abortions in fiscal year 2012 (which works out to one every 94 seconds). In fiscal 2012, PP received $542.4 million in government health services grants and reimbursements, which includes payments from Medicaid managed-care plans. Taxpayers provide 45% of PP’s annual revenue. PP is not supposed to use federal money to support abortions, but taxpayers are clearly financially supporting PP.
A Congressional bill named the Pregnant and Parenting Students Access to Education Act would have authorized the Secretary of Education to grant supplemental funding to school districts in order to provide academic support programs, and increased data collection and reporting regarding pregnant students. The bill stated that “Females who do not earn a high school diploma are especially likely to face severe economic consequences – to be unemployed, to earn very low wages, and to have to rely on public support programs – that significantly affect not only individual students and their families, but also our national economy as a whole.” The bill died in committee in 2012.
A New York Times article titled “Having a Life Before Creating One” describes a social program that has been a monumental success. Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club in the Bronx primarily serves children whose working parents need a place to take them after school. It offers seminars that cover such topics as which fork to use, who should pay for a date, and why a student shouldn’t give an abusive date another chance. “The classes at Kips Bay hardly avoid discussions of birth control, but they are steeped in larger conversations about civility, about learning how to treat people respectfully, about upending gender-role assumptions that 15-year-olds might have.” (12-15-12)
The article reports:
In the 10 years the classes have been offered at the facility… only one of the 500 girls who have participated has become a teenage mother. This figure, remarkable in itself, has added resonance in the Bronx, which has the highest teenage birthrate of any [New York City] borough, according to city statistics: 42 births per 1,000 girls aged 15-19.
Perhaps this program reveals an answer to the dilemma school districts face in helping pregnant and parenting students: “Holistic approaches to helping teenagers navigate their love lives would seem to best position them for a productive adult experience.”