Title IX and Pregnant and Parenting Students
Dr. Chris Maria / Published October 27, 2023
The television sitcom Reba, which premiered in the fall of 2001, endeared and enraged many families with one of its main storylines. That storyline revolved around the main character's pregnant teenage daughter, Cheyenne. Cheyenne represented the average popular teenage girl - cheerleader, loving and supportive parents, living in suburbia, dating the school's star football player. And sexually active without her parents' knowledge.
When Cheyenne's pregnancy became fully apparent, the high school principal asked her to consider enrolling in a school for pregnant teens. The principal felt that Cheyenne's pregnancy set a negative precedent and example for the public high school she oversaw. This school administrator echoed a once-popular mantra: You show, you go.
To prevent such discrimination, Congress passed Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) to protect a pregnant and parenting student's right to an education.
Here is a little more about Title IX:
- How it applies to pregnant and parenting students.
- Why Title IX has not improved graduation rates for pregnant and parenting students.
- What schools must do to support the academic success of pregnant and parenting students.
- What pregnant and parenting students should know about their rights.
About Title IX
Title IX is a federal law, enacted in 1972, stating that "no person on the basis of sex shall be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance”.
Title IX is best known for creating opportunities for female athletes. Since Title IX was enacted, women's participation in sports has grown exponentially. In high schools, the number of female athletes has increased from 295,000 in 1972 to more than 2.6 million. At the collegiate level, the number has grown from 30,000 to more than 150,000.
Title IX and Pregnant and Parenting Students
What many people don't know is that Title IX also applies to female students who are pregnant and parenting. Title IX protects their right to an education equal to their peers. All students who may be, are or have been pregnant have the right to the same access to school programs and educational opportunities as other students. This applies all the way through the university level.
Before Title IX, pregnant and parenting students, like the fictional television character Cheyenne, were denied the right to an education. They were dismissed or expelled. Title IX made such discrimination against pregnant and parenting students illegal.
Still a Dropout Crisis - 50 Years Later
While Title IX opened doors and created significant opportunities for female athletes, the same progress has not been made for pregnant and parenting students. 50 years after the passage of Title IX, the CDC reports that only 50% of pregnant and parenting students earn a high school diploma. There are two main reasons for this lack of progress:
- Educational barriers push pregnant and parenting students out of school, and
- Schools, colleges, and universities blatantly violate Title IX without recourse.
Educational barriers are one reason for the lack of progress. The National Women's Laws Center (NWLC) in a series called Let Her Learn - Stopping School Pushout For: Girls Who Are Pregnant or Parenting----identified twelve educational barriers that push pregnant and parenting girls out of school:
- Environment of Discouragement
- Lack of Support
- Punitive Absences and Policies
- Need for Accommodations
- Inaccessible Homebound Instruction
- The Unequal Alternative
- Lack of Childcare
- Need for Transportation
- Stress, Insufficient Time, and the Need to Work
- Economic, Housing, and Family Instability
- Stigma, Bullying, Harassment, and Violence
- Negative Feelings
Here is the full report to learn more about the educational barriers that are pushing pregnant and parenting students out of school– Let Her Learn Series –Stopping School Pushout For: Girls Who Are Pregnant or Parenting.
Violations of Title IX
Another reason there is still a dropout crisis is that schools, colleges, and universities are violating Title IX in plain sight without recourse. The Pregnant Scholar highlighted one violation in their profile of Kamaria Downs. Kamaria's university violated her Title IX rights when they forced her to move out of her dormitory because she was pregnant. She was a second semester senior. Her university did not reimburse her for her housing costs or provide her with alternative housing. Fortunately, Kamaria was able to live with her professor second semester and graduate. After graduation, she filed a Title IX complaint against her university and won. Read more about her story in The Pregnant Scholar Profiles --Kamaria Downs.
Enforcing the law
To improve educational outcomes for pregnant and parenting students, schools must enforce the law. The U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, has published a pamphlet for schools, Supporting the Academic Success of Pregnant and Parenting Students. Read more of that pamphlet to learn more about how schools can support pregnant and parenting students.
Know Your Rights
Pregnant and parenting students should also know their rights and what to do if they feel their school is violating their rights under Title IX. The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights has published a brochure for pregnant and parenting students: Know Your Rights: Pregnant and Parenting Student? Title IX Protects You from Discrimination at School. If you are a pregnant and parenting student, you want to be familiar with that brochure to learn what your school is required to do and how to proceed if you feel you are being discriminated against.
To learn more about Title IX, read my new award-winning book, Helping Teen Moms Graduate: Strategies for Families, Schools, and Community Organizations.