In our last post, we talked about the increased risks and challenges young parents and their families face. Chief among these is the likelihood of not graduating from school, and the subsequent consequences of not completing an education.
Luckily, federal, state, and local statutes; mentoring programs; and school-specific strategies that exist, giving pregnant and parenting teens a better chance of graduating from high school. These teens face a wide array of barriers in attending and succeeding in school, as they juggle schoolwork and parenting responsibilities, try to access to affordable child care and transportation, and deal with discrimination from school personnel.
Remember the following information if you are a teen who finds herself pregnant, a teen father, or if you are an individual in a position to help a teen graduate.
First of all, pregnant and parenting teens need to know that it is their basic right to continue school following the birth of their child. This was made clear under Title IX of the Education Amendments in 1972. Title IX mandates that all schools receiving federal funds provide pregnant and parenting (male and female) teens with equal access to schools, classes, services, and extracurricular activities other students would receive. Title IX includes the following directives:
- Pregnant and parenting teens cannot be made to go to a separate school.
- Schools must prevent and address sex-based harassment.
- Schools must offer pregnant students the same benefits that they would offer to students with other medical conditions.
- Excused absences must be allowed for the length of time that the doctor says the student needs to recover.
In North Carolina
The North Carolina State Law, Education for Pregnant and Parenting Students, was passed in 2006 and contains requirements that schools in our state must adhere to in addition to what is mandated at the federal level. These requirements consist of the following:
- Local boards of education must adopt a policy to ensure that pregnant and parenting students are not discriminated against. Extra funds from the At-Risk Student Services allocation must be used for support programs for these students, such as tutors, graduation coaches, and transportation.
- Requirements related to excused absences, homebound instruction, and just treatment must be in place.
- When a student returns to school, she must be restored to the full academic and extracurricular status she held when her leave began.
- Homework and makeup work must be assigned to help the student keep current and to prevent her from losing credit
(Here is a full list of Title IX coordinators in North Carolina.)
North Carolina School Boards
School boards must have a policy in place at to ensure that local schools comply with state laws to protect pregnant and parenting teens. These policies vary from school to school, but here are some key points from the Orange County Board Policy:
Pregnant and parenting students….
- Have the right to attend school.
- Will receive homework assignments and make up work.
- Have access to a homebound instructor when medically necessary; this instructor will be available two week prior to delivery and six weeks after.
- Will have all pregnancy-related absences excused.
- Cannot bring their child to school, unless it is part of a class.
- Can have certain activities limited if the doctor states that participation in such activities could be dangerous to her health.
These are the basics. However, schools can do more than simply comply with standard policies.
Best Practices Beyond the Law
Sometimes being of the most help to pregnant and parenting teens requires thinking outside the box and considering each individual teen’s needs. Schools can create individualized learning plans for pregnant and parenting teens, provide an at-home tutor, provide on-site child care, and put policies in place to protect girls from harassment and bullying. Additionally, schools can reach out to students who have dropped out following a pregnancy or birth, rather than just letting these students fall off of the radar. Schools must make a firm commitment to enforcing these policies; written laws are not enough.
More effective and long-lasting change can best be achieved when helping pregnant and parenting teens is a community-wide effort. Schools should work with organizations like social services, health departments, and other support networks to ensure that students have all necessary resources and assistance. Adolescent Parenting Programs are a fantastic resource for these young parents. Such programs work to provide support for parenting teens by helping them to remain in school, graduate, and delay a second pregnancy.
The main message to schools is for them to not give up on pregnant and parenting teens. The federal and state statues in place provide a strong foundation, but it is up to caring professionals in the school and community to ensure that pregnant and parenting teens have a fighting chance. Because, when girls don’t graduate, we all fail.