Just when I thought I had seen it all, and right on the heels of our announcement two days ago of a great Title IX pregnancy discrimination settlement with the City University of New York, my colleague forwards me this article and video from HuffPo. Apparently last summer a North Carolina high school allowed its rising seniors to pose for senior photos with props that represented their achievements, who they are, what they like, etc. Some students posed with footballs, some even posed with their family pets, and teen mom Caitlin Tiller posed with her baby. Touchingly, Caitlin explains that her son “helped me get to where I am today.” She said that after giving birth she started to work harder in school – she even graduated early, began college classes in January and got a part-time job working 30 hours a week. She added: “I wouldn’t be the person I am today without him.”
Still, a month ago school officials told Caitlin that they would not print the photo of her with her baby. They said the baby should not be pictured because he is not “school related.” Boy, would I love to hear them explain how a family pet is “school related.” Read more »
A few months ago, my employer, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), filed an administrative complaint against the City University of New York (CUNY) for violating Title IX by discriminating against a pregnant student, and just this morning we settled the case with CUNY, which has agreed to take some important steps to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.
A little background: Stephanie Stewart, a student at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), was pregnant at the start of the Spring 2012 semester. Because BMCC, like the vast majority of colleges and universities, receives federal funding, it is prohibited from discriminating on the basis of sex by Title IX. Unfortunately, BMCC left it up to instructors to determine their own policies for absences and make-up work and didn’t explain that pregnancy-related absences must be excused.
Stephanie’s professor in her anthropology course called “Roles of Women” refused to accede to Stephanie’s request that, if she had to miss class to attend a pregnancy-related medical appointment or to deliver her baby, she be allowed to make up the work she missed. The professor told Stephanie that she doesn’t allow make-up tests or assignments, even in cases of unforeseen emergencies – including Stephanie’s pregnancy, and refused to grade homework turned in via email when Stephanie had to attend a doctor’s appointment.
Stephanie didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. She brought her case to the attention of NWLC and helped score a BIG-TIME victory for all CUNY students. As a result of the settlement, CUNY will adopt a policy regarding the treatment of pregnant and parenting students, making it clear that absences for conditions relating to pregnancy are excused and students will be allowed to make up missed work. Read more »
I’ve been in utter shock since hearing of this new ad campaign in New York City aimed at preventing teen pregnancy. While I support and strongly encourage efforts to help teenagers to avoid becoming pregnant – including comprehensive and medically accurate sex education, access to contraceptives and abortion, and a culture that allows teens to talk about sex openly and honestly rather than shaming them – this ad campaign will do harm by perpetuating stereotypes and further discouraging and stigmatizing teen parents. Consider the following four points:
The ads play on stereotypes and shame teen parents. People will see the sad faces of the babies in the ads and assume that children of teen mothers are not happy or well-cared-for. The messages about reduced graduation rates and a life in poverty paint teen mothers as incompetent and unworthy of motherhood. It is a message that mothers who live in poverty – especially young mothers of color – receive all too often. The ads perpetuate this message by featuring mostly children of color Rather than recognizing the difficulty of being a teen parent or emphasizing the importance of delaying pregnancy until after educational and career goals are met, these ads only call negative attention to them.
On last night’s episode of High School Moms, we saw Florence Crittenton students in the days leading up to graduation, taking final exams and preparing to say goodbye to their teachers and friends and go out into the world. Some of them are the first in their families to graduate from high school. It was very exciting and a little sad; the students talked about all they had been through together and about “leaving the nest” and tears were shed.
The show highlighted the stories of three particularly amazing students. For the first time we met Evangeline, who is 18 and has a 2-year old son and no help from the baby’s father. She takes a Certified Nursing Assistant class 4 days a week so she can get a good job when she graduates and goes to college. She works hard, and we see her pass the final test. She is named the Valedictorian of the FloCrit graduating class, and seems to be liked by all. You can tell she is going to go far. And clearly the supports available to her at FloCrit were key; in her graduation speech, even she says: “I came here thinking I’d never be able to graduate.”
“It’s never a waste of money to invest in someone’s human potential.” Those are the words of Brandy Chance, a Social Studies teacher at the Florence Crittenton School for pregnant and parenting teens in Colorado. She knows firsthand just how much potential is in the young women that attend FloCrit. If only more schools invested in that potential instead of discriminating against pregnant and parenting students. According to NWLC’s report, 64% of states lack anti-discrimination laws, regulations, or guidelines that would protect these students.
On this week’s episode of High School Moms, we met two incredibly strong young moms who are wise beyond their teenage years. First we met 16-year-old Larissa. She has a 1-year-old son and gave birth to her second son during the episode. Much of the show focused on Larissa’s delivery. She went into labor sooner than expected and to say she was overwhelmed would be an understatement. Through tears, Larissa expressed her fear that she wasn’t prepared to have another baby. I was incredibly impressed by her maturity throughout the episode. She obviously has spent a lot of time reflecting on her situation and noted that “having a baby at a young age can either make you or it breaks you.” She is determined not to let it break her and the support she receives from the staff at Florence Crittenton will certainly help make that a reality. Read more »
When I advocate for better supports for pregnant and parenting students, a lot of people throw back the myth that helping them succeed in school will be seen as an endorsement of teen pregnancy and will encourage other students to get pregnant. And I tell people all the time: girls don’t get pregnant just because they can get subsidized child care or tutoring assistance. It’s far more complex than that, and the idea that “pregnancy is contagious” is old-fashioned and unfounded. To the contrary, the stigma that comes with being a teen parent is alive and well. Movies and TV shows about the subject and celebrities getting pregnant as teenagers have not changed that.
This was one of the themes of last night’s episode of High School Moms. The students of Florence Crittenton remarked about how annoying it is that so many people judge teen moms and assume the worst of them. One said, “I’m still in school; I’m not a dropout.” A teacher remarked that being at FloCrit is nice for the girls because “they are not an outcast here.” But even at a separate school dedicated to pregnant and parenting students, they are not immune from the power of stereotypes in our society. And the good news is that they are determined to prove those stereotypes wrong. Read more »
This week on High School Moms we met two more young women enrolled at the Florence Crittenton School for pregnant and parenting students in Denver, CO. First we met Kaylynn who is struggling with her relationship with her mother, her son’s behavioral issues, her weight, her grades at school, and making financial ends meet – needless to say, it’s a lot for a 17-year-old mom to handle. We also met Alyah, the daughter of a teen mom, who at 16 is nine months pregnant and understandably scared to death of the reality of giving birth.
The greatest contrast between Kaylynn and Alyah has to do with the men, or lack thereof, in their lives. Kaylynn didn’t provide us with many details, but it was obvious that the father of her son is not involved and that his absence contributes to a lot of her struggles. Alyah on the other hand has a very supportive boyfriend – the 16-year old father of her soon-to-be born son. Alyah told us that when she broke the news of her pregnancy, he hugged her and reassured her that everything would be okay. Read more »
This week on High School Moms, the focus of the show was the Florence Crittenton School’s first-ever prom. It was completely planned by the students with some help from the community, including hundreds of donated prom dresses and free hair, nails, and make-up services donated by a local beauty school. The young moms (and moms-to-be) were so excited about it.
In this episode we met Carla Garcia, a 19-year old mom of a 3-year old boy, and Amber Martinez, a 17-year old mom of a 2-year old girl. When Amber introduced herself she said that her mom was a teen mom, as was her grandmother, and she said, “I am going to stop the cycle.” I believe she will, not just because she is so self-aware and is quite the go-getter, which she appears to be based on her leadership role in the prom planning, but also because thankfully, she attends a school where she is encouraged to see graduation as a reality and college as a possibility worth pursuing. Read more »
Last night I watched the first episode of High School Moms, the six-episode TLC documentary about students at the Florence Crittenton School for pregnant and parenting teens in Denver. Refreshingly, the show really did focus on school, both the struggles its students go through in trying to get an education and stay on track for graduation, and the struggles administrators and teachers go through in trying to help. The obstacles faced by these young mothers – personal, academic, and financial – are enormous. And remember, these are girls who go to a school that is supportive and focused on their needs, where they are not facing the types of harassment and blatant pregnancy discrimination that so many pregnant and parenting students across the country still face at school, even though it’s prohibited by Title IX.
Still, it’s not easy. In fact, the two young moms profiled on last night’s show appear to be on the verge of having to go the GED route instead of staying in high school.Read more »
NWLC’s report, “A Pregnancy Test for Schools” clearly delineates the rights of pregnant and parenting students in a convenient Bill of Rights.
You have the right to be treated with dignity and respect.
You have the right to be free of discrimination. No one can kick you out of school because you are pregnant or a parent.
Your school must excuse absences due to pregnancy or childbirth for as long as your doctor says it is necessary. All of your teachers are required to give you a reasonable amount of time, after the conclusion of those absences, to make up the work you missed.
Separate programs or schools for students who are pregnant or parents must be completely voluntary. You cannot be forced to attend a separate school.