SCHOOLS FAIL TO MEET THE NEEDS OF PREGNANT AND PARENTING STUDENTS, NEW NWLC REPORT SHOWS
On 40th Anniversary of Title IX, More Work Remains to Reach the Law’s Full Promise
(Washington, D.C.) The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) today released a comprehensive report that shows the impact of pervasive discrimination against pregnant and parenting students across the country (http://www.nwlc.org/pregnancytestforschools). On the 40th anniversary of Title IX—the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education—schools still bar pregnant and parenting students from activities, kick them out of school, push them into alternative programs and penalize them for pregnancy-related absences, all of which violate Title IX and increase the risk that they will drop out of school. The Center also found that the vast majority of state education laws and policies fail to provide adequate support for these students.
A Pregnancy Test for Schools: The Impact of Education Laws on Pregnant and Parenting Students examines the education laws and regulations in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico and ranks them based on the extent to which their laws and policies help this vulnerable student population succeed. The Center’s study found that while a handful of states have made important advances, no state has the full range of major policies and programs that would help these students graduate from high school ready for college or careers, and some states have policies that exacerbate the problem. The majority of states have few or no laws, policies, or programs specifically designed to improve outcomes for these students. The Center’s state-by-state ranking shows that the top five states are California, Florida, Oregon, North Carolina and Wisconsin; the bottom five are Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nevada, and Nebraska.
“Too many schools treat pregnant and parenting teens like lost causes,” said NWLC Co-President Marcia D. Greenberger. “These students often are discouraged from continuing their education and experience illegal sex discrimination, harassment, and punitive absence policies. It’s no wonder that so many students fall between the cracks of an educational system that fails to address their very real needs. It’s past time for leaders to make serious efforts to help, rather than hinder, these vulnerable students.”
Four decades after Title IX was enacted in 1972, the Center’s report underscores the wide gap between the law’s nondiscrimination mandate and its enforcement. The Center’s analysis also highlights how federal policymakers, states, and school districts can go beyond Title IX’s mandate of nondiscrimination to provide key support to improve the chances that pregnant and parenting students will graduate.
The Center also is marking the Title IX anniversary by launching “Faces of Title IX,” an online portal (http://www.nwlc.org/title-ix) featuring nine diverse stories that put a human face on this groundbreaking law and reflect its broad range. Title IX mandates equal opportunities on the playing field, protects pregnant and parenting students from being pushed out of school, being bullied or sexually harassed, and requires that women and girls get equal opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math.
These vivid accounts reveal both how Title IX, when properly utilized, has had a positive impact on equity in education but also how much work remains to reach its full promise. The stories range from a mother’s discovery that her 13-year-old daughter is being bullied while teachers passively watch to the first female African-American pediatric neurosurgeon who navigated a male-dominated profession to a middle-school basketball coach who takes on the challenge of her life. This initiative also will inspire girls and women to share their own stories that reflect different aspects of this law.
Lisette Orellana, one of the women featured in “Faces of Title IX,” knows first-hand how tough it is to stay in high school when you’re pregnant—even when you’re an A student. “When I couldn’t hide my belly any longer, I told my teachers one by one. Some had been my biggest cheerleaders. Now, several suggested I drop classes right away,” said Orellana, 25, a mother of two from Gaithersburg, MD, who works full-time advocating for pregnant teens. “A couple of teachers questioned whether I’d even finish 10th grade. When I had to leave my honors English class early for a doctor’s appointment, my teacher muttered as I passed through the door: ‘I don’t know why she even bothers to come to class. She’s going nowhere.’ I used to love school. Then I started to dread it. Several times a day I debated dropping out.”
The dropout statistics for pregnant and parenting students are stark: only 51 percent of teen mothers get a high school diploma by age 22, compared with 89 percent who do not have a child during their teen years. One-third of teen mothers never get a G.E.D. or a diploma. But research data demonstrate that when pregnant teens are given support to stay in school, their high school graduation rates rise.
The Center’s report is part of its larger campaign to end discrimination against pregnant and parenting students and schools’ diminished expectations of them. Title IX enforcement efforts often ignore this aspect of the law, and the challenges these students face routinely fail to get adequate attention, even in school reform and dropout prevention debates. A Pregnancy Test for Schools offers concrete solutions for policymakers at the federal, state, and school district levels to address the needs of pregnant and parenting students and reap the benefit of these students’ talents and skills. The report also features a toolkit with materials for schools, students and advocates to initiate improvements in their communities.
The Center calls on the U.S. Department of Education to engage in a serious public education effort to remind schools of their legal obligations to protect pregnant and parenting students from discrimination and to enhance its Title IX enforcement efforts. The Center calls on Congress and state lawmakers to fund programs that support and encourage these students and calls on states and school districts to develop laws and policies clearly excusing absences related to pregnancy and requiring schools to institute pregnant and parenting student programs that include measures like individualized education plans and flexible scheduling.
“The proven correlation between providing support and higher graduation rates should spur states to strengthen policies and programs for pregnant and parenting students,” said Fatima Goss Graves, NWLC Vice President of Education and Employment. “There’s a valuable payoff: more students will graduate and gain the educational tools to position themselves in our competitive economy.”
For more resources on Title IX and how the law protects pregnant and parenting students, visit http://www.nwlc.org/title-ix/resources
The National Women’s Law Center is a non-profit organization that has been working since 1972 to advance and protect women’s equality and opportunity. The Center focuses on major policy areas of importance to women and their families including economic security, education, employment and health, with special attention given to the concerns of low-income women. For more information on the Center, visit: www.nwlc.org.