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NWLC Files Title IX Complaint Against Georgia High School for Discriminating Against a Pregnant Student

Complaint charges Washington-Wilkes Comprehensive High School and Wilkes County Schools with penalizing students for pregnancy-related absences in violation of Title IX

July 24, 2014

(Washington, D.C.) The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) today filed a complaint on behalf of 18-year-old high school student Mikelia Seals against Washington-Wilkes Comprehensive High School (WWCHS) and the Wilkes County Schools (WCS) in Washington, Georgia for violating Title IX—the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education. 

The complaint, filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in Atlanta, details the pregnancy discrimination Seals experienced in the Spring semester of 2014 when the school refused to excuse her absences due to her pregnancy and childbirth; refused to provide her with the homebound instruction offered to students with other temporary disabilities—despite a doctor’s note explaining that she had been put on medically necessary bed rest; told her that she could not make up the work she had missed due to her pregnancy, childbirth and recovery; and gave her no credit for the Spring semester, even for the work she had completed.

The complaint also contends that WWCHS and WCS maintain policies and practices that routinely discriminate against pregnant and parenting students in violation of Title IX. 

“I counted on my school helping me, but once I was on bed rest I was left to fend for myself,” said Mikelia Seals“Day by day, I was slipping far behind my classmates.  Math is my best subject, but without any instruction, it was hard to keep up, and then my school said I wouldn’t get credit for any of the work I was doing.  Despite the setback, I’m more determined than ever to do well at school and make a good future for my baby and myself.”

“At the very moment when schools should support pregnant students and help them stay in school, too many are backing off and either doing nothing or kicking them out of school,” said Fatima Goss Graves, NWLC Vice President for Education and Employment. “This is illegal behavior. It’s time that schools step up to the plate and meet their obligations under Title IX to protect pregnant students and those who are parents.  And it’s time for schools to help these students—who are juggling classes and caring for children everyday—get the education they need and deserve.”

Mikelia Seals was a full-time student at WWCHS beginning in August 2010 and was scheduled to graduate in May 2015.  In Fall semester 2013, Seals became pregnant and in February 2014 she experienced pregnancy complications, which included severe back pain and early contractions.  At that point, Seals’ doctor ordered her to go on bed rest for the remainder of her pregnancy.  When Seals submitted her doctor’s note and requested homebound instruction, her request was denied and she was told that the school no longer had a homebound instruction program.  But, in fact, WWCHS students with other medical conditions are considered eligible for homebound instruction; it is just pregnancy and related conditions that are treated as non-eligible.  During Seals’ absence from school, she sought out work from her teachers, which she completed to the best of her abilities.  But when Seals returned to school to take a mandatory exam that would determine if she could graduate on schedule next year, the principal told her that none of the work she was doing from home would count toward her classes and that she would not get credit for the whole semester.  Seals later received a letter from the school stating that she had exceeded the permitted number of unexcused absences for the year and confirming that she would not be receiving credit for any of her Spring semester coursework.

The complaint requests that WWCHS and WCS allow Seals to return to school without penalty and work with her to craft an individualized plan to complete her Spring 2014 semester work, with the goal of helping her to graduate as planned in Spring 2015.  The complaint also requests that WWCHS and WCS adopt a policy regarding their obligations to pregnant and parenting students that would bring the school and district into compliance with Title IX and conduct training on the new policy for all staff and students.     
 

NWLC Title IX experts are available for comment.  If you are interested in interviewing student Mikelia Seals, please contact Maria Patrick at mpatrick@nwlc.org or 202-588-5180.

For more resources on Title IX and how the law protects pregnant and parenting students, visit www.nwlc.org/pregnantandparentingstudents.