Situation: Ana is 16 years old and four months pregnant. Her school principal has asked her to attend an alternative school in her district. Ana is concerned because she knows the alternative schools do not offer the AP classes she needs for college.
Question: Does Ana have to attend an alternative school because she is pregnant?
Answer: No. A pregnant teen may not be forced to attend an alternative education program. The decision to leave school and attend an alternative program is entirely up to the pregnant student. A student also may not be forced to enroll in a special program. 34 C.F.R. § 106.40(b)(3).
If the pregnant or parenting student chooses to go to an alternative school or join a special program, the education must be the same quality as the education at her previous school. 34 C.F.R. § 106.40(b)(3).
In the Maryland General Assembly, legislation has been introduced to help shed more light on how alternative schools function, and hold school districts accountable for their overuse or misuse of alternative school placements. In 2020, HB1022/SB0830 required each county Board of Education to report certain data about their alternative schools to the Maryland State Department of Education, and that MSDE report this information to the Governor and Maryland General Assembly. MD NARAL advocated for passage of the bill as it sought to better understand the climate and support of students attending alternative schools in our state. Gaining more information allows for improvement to support all students regardless of the types of schools they attend. As such, legislation will help pregnant and parenting students who often find themselves in such placements be able to advocate for educational equity, or return to their schools of origin.
Many pregnant and parenting students reported that they had no other choice but to attend an alternative school to continue their education. These students reported that they failed to receive adequate instruction, and therefore felt disengaged from learning. Often times these alternative schools do not have the same variety of classes or offer advanced placement classes. Black and Latinx female and male students have experienced some of the highest rates of exclusionary discipline, leading to push out into alternative schools. According to the Advancement Project, pushout to alternative schools brings these students closer to the school to prison pipeline. In the National Women’s Law Center report, “Stopping School Pushout for: Girls Who Are Pregnant or Parenting,” more than 50% of female pregnant or parenting students were black and more than 60% were Latinx. Discrimination and push out interfering with a pregnant or parenting student’s authentic participation in school can lead to real threats of educational attainment and financial stability for generations.
HB1022/SB0803 sought to establish reporting requirements including the number of students that are pregnant and parenting, along with their graduation rates, standardized test scores, grade promotion rates, and services/programs in place to support them. This data collection will not only provide more transparency on the number of students enrolled in alternative schools, but also the educational success of these students when attending alternative schools. Although HB1022/SB0830 failed to pass during the 2020 session, it is anticipated that it will be introduced in 2021.