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California leads nation in programs for teen parents, report finds

June 19, 2012 |  7:27 pm

Four decades after a landmark federal law barred sex discrimination in education, pregnant students and teen parents still face major barriers to equality –- but California leads the nation in supportive policies for them, according to a study released Tuesday.

An analysis by the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, D.C., found that many schools still bar such students from activities, kick them out of school, push them into alternative and inferior educational programs and penalize them for pregnancy-related absences. One New Mexico teen, the study said, was kicked out of school when officials learned she was pregnant, then forced to announce her condition at a school assembly after lawyers won her readmission.

Such actions violate Title IX, the 1972 law that bans sex bias in federally funded education programs and activities, the study said. The law bars sexual harassment and bullying, protects pregnant students and teen parents from being pushed out of school and requires equal opportunities on the playing field and in all disciplines including science and math.

For pregnant teens, the law specifically requires states to provide equal access to school, extracurricular activities, alternative programs of comparable quality to the regular curriculum and excused absences if deemed medically necessary by a physician and is related to pregnancy or childbirth.

But the vast majority of states fail to provide such support, the study said.

“Too many schools treat pregnant and parenting teens like lost causes,” Marcia D. Greenberger, the law center’s co-president, said in a statement. “These students often are discouraged from continuing their education and experience illegal sex discrimination, harassment and punitive absence policies. It’s no wonder that so many students fall between the cracks…. It’s past time for leaders to make serious efforts to help, rather than hinder, these vulnerable students.”

The study praised California and the other top-ranked states, Florida, Oregon, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. California is one of just six states that addresses the rights of pregnant teens in its attendance policies. And a state program for teen parents and pregnant students launched in 2000 has helped 73% of them complete their high school education, compared with 51% of teen mothers overall.

The California School Age Families Education program offers counseling, academic support, career education, meal supplements, peer support, parenting skills education and other services.

Despite such success, the California program lost 19% of its funding in 2009 and the office that monitored compliance with Title IX and collected data was eliminated amid the state’s financial crunch. Since then, funding has been included in a block grant for several school programs and participation has dropped by about 39%, according to a separate evaluation last year. 

The study, which analyzed state education laws for pregnant students and teen parents, ranked Idaho last. The state website offers information on abstinence, referrals for information about sexually transmitted disease and data on pregnant young women but no information about where to get help, the study found.

The women’s law center urged a major campaign to educate the public about Title IX and called for better services for pregnant teens. “There’s a valuable payoff:  more students will graduate and gain the educational tools to position themselves in our competitive economy,” Fatima Goss Graves, the legal center’s vice president of education and employment, said in a statement.

The report can be obtained at http://www.nwlc.org/reports-overview/pregnancy-test-schools-impact-education-laws-pregnant-and-parenting-students.

--Teresa Watanabe