Situation 1: Sarah is eight weeks pregnant and attends public school. She has not been feeling well and is having a tough time concentrating in class. She is afraid to tell anyone because she has heard that she will be forced to leave school.
Question: Can Sarah’s public school make her leave because she is pregnant?
Answer: No. Sarah has a right to stay in school throughout her pregnancy. Each pregnant student has the same education rights as every other student. Under federal law, she may attend her regular classes and fully participate in school activities. 34 C.F.R. § 106.40(b)(1).
Question: What if a student can’t attend school due to medical reasons related to pregnancy?
Situation 2: Ebony attends St. Christopher’s Catholic School. She is four weeks pregnant and afraid that the school will make her leave.
Question: Can her private school make Ebony leave because she is pregnant?
Answer: Maybe. Private schools that are not funded by the government do not guarantee that they will treat pregnant students equally. Some private schools do receive federal money. Under federal law, if the school receives any federal funds, it cannot make a student leave because she is pregnant or parenting. 34 C.F.R. § 106.12(a). If there is no public funding in which state or federal anti-discrimination laws would apply, a pregnant student may be asked to leave her private school if pregnancy is a violation of enrollment or student code of conduct regulations.
Situation 3: Jenny is pregnant and is worried about missing school if she goes into labor before the school year ends. Further, she is worried about missing additional classes once her child is born if her child gets sick or needs to go to the doctor.
Question: Can Jenny’s school or teachers hold Jenny’s absence due to her labor against her or deny her the ability to make up the work she has missed so that she has to drop out of school or repeat her classes?
Answer: No! Jenny’s school and teachers must excuse her labor and child care related absences. The Maryland’s State Board of Education is in the process of codifying 2017’s HB616 into COMAR and the Maryland Student Records Manual. Jenny is allowed at least 10 excused absences after giving birth. Further, once born, absences regarding medical appointments for the child or legal appointments related to adoption, custody, and visitation will be excused. Jenny is allowed to make up the work from all these absences. Md. Code Ann., Educ. § 7-301.1(a).
All young people in Maryland have the right to a public-school education and most are required by law to go to school from age 5 through 18. Md. Code Ann., Educ. § 7–301.
Public schools cannot require a pregnant student to produce a doctor’s note to stay in school or participate in activities, including interscholastic sports, unless the same requirement applies to all students. Md. Code Ann., Educ. § 7–301.
Harassment of or discrimination against a pregnant student is considered a violation of federal law under Title IX. Here is a great infographic poster from Healthy Teen Network about the rights of pregnant students under Title IX.
In the Maryland General Assembly, MD NARAL advocated for the successful passage of 2017’s HB0616, establishing and clarifying excused absences for pregnant, expectant, and parenting students (PEPS), to avoid them being unfairly labeled as truant or pushed out of school for “excessive” absences. HB 616 – Factsheet on the New Attendance Policy for Pregnant and Parenting Students
To build on these efforts, HB1298/SB0791 was introduced in 2020, requiring secondary school personnel to coordinate supports needed to help PEPS stay in school and prevent school push-out, while requiring school districts to collect data on the educational outcomes of these youth to identify areas in need of reform. HB1298/SB0791 – Factsheet on the Education Equity for Pregnant, Expectant, and Parenting Students Act of 2020
Each year from 2014 to 2018, approximately 800 youth from ages 15 to 17 gave birth in Maryland, and roughly another 2,200 were 18 or 19 years-old. We currently have no information about their graduation rates. MD NARAL strongly feels that PEPS should be included among the youth that deserve as rigorous an education as their non-pregnant and parenting peers, and their needs are addressed as part of the “at-promise” population described in the major education reform bill of the decade also introduced in 2020, HB1300/SB1000. However, The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future did not contain the words “pregnant” or “pregnancy” throughout the bill.
Pregnant, expectant, and parenting students may experience unwelcoming, inequitable, or stigmatizing school environments. Under Title IX, “school pushout” practices are prohibited, such as lack of accommodations for childcare and lactation, stigmatization and harassment from peers and staff, and involuntary leave from school. Title IX ensures that students who are pregnant or parenting are protected by allowing continued participation in classes and extracurricular activities, provide reasonable adjustments in the learning environment, authorize excused absences due to pregnancy or childbirth, and allow time to make up missed work. Accommodations can also include access to a bigger desk, more bathrooms breaks, and use of an available elevator. However, while some schools seek to support these students, other choose to make the school climate dynamics so toxic that pregnant students may choose to drop out of school during pregnancy or decide to not return.
HB1298/SB0791 required school districts to identify existing school personnel who can coordinate and secure available onsite or offsite resources for childcare, transportation, and lactation supports for these youth. With guidance and assistance from the University of Maryland’s Institute of Innovation and Implementation, school districts will learn how to best collect data on the educational outcomes of pregnant and parenting youth, as well on the challenges they face to remain in school, resulting in a comprehensive, culminative report based upon at least three years of data. Although HB1298/SB0791 failed to pass during the 2020 session, it is anticipated that it will be introduced in 2021.
Also in the Maryland General Assembly, there has been interest in legislation shedding light on the use of the state’s Home and Hospital Teaching Program for Students. In 2020, HB0522/SB0572 required the Maryland State Department of Education to study and make recommendations regarding certain matters relating to the program, and report these findings and recommendations to the Governor, Board of Education, and Maryland General Assembly.
MD NARAL supported this legislation and it would have helped identify and create effective supports to help pregnant and parenting students that are eligible for the program to stay in school, on track to graduate, and headed towards economic security. These students often report having a renewed sense of commitment to their educational outcomes, knowing full well that high school diplomas will lead to better employment prospects in order to adequately care for the families they are forming. Although HB0522/SB0572 failed to pass during the 2020 session, it is anticipated that it will be introduced in 2021.
Black and Latinx female and male students have experienced some of the highest rates of exclusionary discipline, leading to push out into alternative schools – and pregnancy is too often an excuse for students to be subjected to exclusionary practices. 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. Temporary access to the Home and Hospital Teaching Program for Students – when there is medically necessary reasons for eligibility – should be an option for PEPS, rather than having them unfairly pushed into alternative school settings or completely out of school enrollment.
Want to help with our policy research? Please take one of these surveys or ask other you know that information to share.
For Pregnant and Parenting Students: Experiences of Pregnant and Parenting Students in Maryland
For Allies and School Officials: Survey for Allies of Pregnant & Parenting Students