Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was really lucky to be awkward and shy enough in high school that sex was never even close to a possibility, no matter how much us girls talked about it in the back of the soccer bus. I never had to worry about a lot of the things that my friends did. Does he really love me? Is it supposed to feel like that? I’m 3 days late, could I be pregnant? And while none of my close friends wound up teen parents, I’ll always remember the swollen bellies and defeated expressions of the girls who did.
I can’t imagine that raising a child is ever easy, let alone at 16 when you don’t even know who you are as a person. I’m more than a decade older than that, in a loving marriage of over 6 years and I still get the cold sweats thinking about being responsible for another human life. Maybe it’s naïve of me, but I would think that people would do anything they could to make sure that teen mothers and their children thrive in such a difficult circumstance. So, it surprised me to learn of one charter school in Louisiana that seems to be taking an entirely different stance, as well as subjecting female students to some pretty egregious privacy violations.
The Delhi Charter School, a Louisiana public school, states in its policy manual that it may require any female student who is “suspected” of being pregnant to submit to a pregnancy test or a physician’s examination. Should the student test positive or, heaven forbid, refuse to take the test she may not attend classes at the school and is instead forced to pursue “home study.” If that isn’t acceptable then the student is counseled to “seek other educational opportunities.” There are neither guidelines regarding what constitutes adequate suspicion nor any recourse for a falsely accused student who refuses to submit to the test.
Putting aside the blatant sexism of this rule (the ACLU has already filed a challenge to this law on grounds of discrimination) and the obvious privacy issues involved, how can this school justify denying educational opportunities to a student population that is so seriously in need?
The statistics are serious. Only about a third of teen mothers under 18 actually end up completing high school and by age 30 only 1.5% of all teen moms have a college degree. Unfortunately, the education rabbit hole goes deeper than the teen parent herself. Around 66% of the children of teen parents earn their high school diploma as compared to 81% of children born to older parents.
Making sure teen mothers have a basic education is already a problem in this country and this school’s solution is to force these young women out of the classroom and into home study. I don’t know about you, but I was salutatorian of my high school class and if I had been forced to do all of my schooling at home I never would have graduated. Isn’t that the exact opposite aim of all educators and administrators? Shouldn’t school be a safe place for our youth to grow and develop rather than a place where young girls feel alienated, humiliated, and then rejected?
Schools should be making sure teen mothers have every chance possible to thrive, not just for themselves, but for the next generation. We as a country know that those who have less education than a high school diploma are twice as likely as average to be unemployed and if they do have a job they will make about half the average salary. By kicking these young women out of their school Delhi Charter School is telling them that they are not worthy of classroom time, that they don’t deserve the same level of interaction as their peers who aren’t pregnant, and, essentially, that they won’t waste their time on someone who won’t succeed. How devastating to a young woman who is already in an incredibly difficult position.
This practice is incredibly harmful to a student population so in need of educational opportunities. Perhaps Delhi Charter School could take a cue from a charter school neighbor to the north. Polly Fox Academy in Toledo, Ohio is a school specifically for 7-12th grade pregnant or parenting girls. Their goal is to help teen moms finish high school while fostering each young woman’s potential in an open and loving community. This is what support looks like. This is acceptance and love and nurturing ideals. This is what every school should aspire to; accept your students as they are and work your tail off to ensure they have the same educational opportunities every young person deserves.
UPDATE: As of Yesterday, Dehli Charter School has decided to change the policy of kicking out students that refused a pregnancy test, or tested positive. Dehli Charter School claims they did not know their actions were wrong and in direct violation of Title IX of the 1972 Education law requiring equal opportunities for both sexes.
Brandi is a lawyer in Denver who spends very little time actually lawyering. She can usually be found working for free at a non-profit, hiking up mountains, or bossing her husband around because he made the mistake of asking her for help with his business one time. She’s horribly technologically inept (unless people still use AIM in which case she’s a genius) and takes one bite out of every donut instead of finishing a single donut in its entirety, which is probably a metaphor for something but she hasn’t figured out what it is yet. You can read more from Brandi on her blog, Randi Nickle.
image courtesy Jezebel