TEEN MOM MEETS TITLE IX: Legal Protection and Services for Pregnant and Parenting Students in Public Schools
by Jessica Nguyen, Esq.
According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, the United States has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy and births among Western industrialized countries. Not only does teenage parenthood cause detrimental consequences on the teen parents’ educational success and future economic security, these effects carry over to their children, creating a multigenerational problem. According to well-documented studies, teen mothers are more likely than other young people to drop out of school, live in poverty, and rely on public assistance.Moreover, students who drop out of school are more likely to earn lower lifetime income, experience worse overall health, and are more likely to see their own children drop out of school and suffer the same consequences. Therefore, it is crucial for pregnant and parenting students and their families to push schools to provide appropriate services and accommodations to allow these students to access and continue their education.
Currently, although pregnant and parenting students face some serious challenges securing services and accommodations and maintaining access to academic programs provided by their schools prior to becoming pregnant, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX”) provides some legal protection and accommodations for pregnant and parenting students. Title IX prohibits educational institutions from discriminating against students on the basis of sex, including a student’s status relating to her potential or actual “pregnancy, childbirth, false pregnancy, termination of pregnancy or recovery therefrom.” 38 C.F.R. § 23.445. In general, all public and private schools and school districts receiving any federal funds must comply with Title IX. In June 2013, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) published a pamphlet for educational agencies entitled Supporting the Academic Success of Pregnant and Parenting Students Under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which provides recommendations to school districts and school administrators to help educate young parents and support and encourage them to stay in school and complete their education. You can access that pamphlet here.
It is important for pregnant and parenting students and their families to understand their rights under federal law in order to ensure that they receive appropriate services and supports at school. Specifically, under Title IX, pregnant and parenting students are entitled to, but not limited to, the following:
- To participate in all school programs and extracurricular activities. This means that pregnant and parenting students can still participate in advanced placement and honors classes, school clubs, sports, honor societies, student leadership opportunities, and other activities, like after-school programs operated at the school.
- To attend a separate program or school for pregnant and parenting students so long as their decision to attend was completely voluntary. The school cannot pressure pregnant and parenting students to attend an alternative program. The alternative program must provide the same types of academic, extracurricular, and enrichment opportunities as the students’ school’s regular program.
- To receive excused absences for any medical reasons related to their pregnancy or childbirth for as long as their physician says is necessary.
- To receive special services that are also provided for temporarily disabled students. This includes homebound instruction, at-home tutoring, and/or independent study.
- To be provided with reasonable accommodations, such as a larger desk, elevator use, and more frequent bathroom privilege due to their pregnancy.
- To be protected from harassment based on their pregnancy or status as a parenting student.
Pregnant and parenting students and their families should meet with the school counselor and/or the Title IX Coordinator (each school, by law, is required to designate one employee at the school or in the school district as the Title IX Coordinator who ensures school/district compliance with Title IX requirements) to develop a plan that allows them to continue their education. A pregnancy should not hinder a young person’s ability to receive a meaningful and appropriate public education.
 Elizabeth Terry-Humen, Jennifer Manlove and Kristin A. Moore, Playing Catch-Up: How Children Borne to Teen Mothers Fare, The Nat’l Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy (Jan. 2005), at 7.
 The Nat’l Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, Why It Matters: Teen Pregnancy and Education (Mar. 2010), http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/why-it-matters/pdf/education.pdf.