The Trials of Truancy on Pregnant and Parenting Teens

By KELSEY YUREK (COL’2019)


Teen pregnancy and birth rates have declined by one-half since the early 1990s, but the drop-out rates for young mothers are disproportionately high.[1] Teen childbearing continues to cost taxpayers billions of dollars on the local, state, and federal levels each year, and the welfare programs available for mothers necessitate adherence to strict rules regarding their educational and living arrangements to receive federal assistance.[2] TANF, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, is one of these programs, and it was created in 1996.[3] A study by Janellen Duffy and Jodie Levin-Epstein (2002), Add It Up: Teen Parents and Welfare…Undercounted, Oversanctioned, Underserved, shows even teens who benefit from these programs fall into the categories of “undercounted, undertracked, oversanctioned, and underserved.” Simply put, their states and their schools are not doing enough to provide services to enable their continued education or even meet their daily needs. In fact, “at least eight states had difficulty narrowing down one top priority for services to help teen parents who have left school return” (Duffy & Levin-Epstein, 2002, p. 14). The services listed did not even identified childcare as a top issue. The following research provides an overview of relevant laws, the negative impact that pregnancy and parenting has on dropping out of high school, and the federal regulations associated with this issue.

Studies demonstrate that pregnant and parenting students possess decreased rates of educational success and drop out at a significantly higher rate. The Department of Education conducts a periodic High School & Beyond study which provides significant data on this topic.[4] The following three reports analyze this most recent national data and address students who are not pregnant or parenting, but only characteristics pertaining to pregnant and parenting students will be noted in this memo. Late High School Dropouts: Characteristics, Experiences, Changes Across Cohorts, published by Ben Dalton, Elizabeth Glennie, & Steven J. Ingels in 2009 highlights the high rate of girls who become pregnant and are forced to drop out of high school. [5] Olga Yakusheva finds that a strong negative correlation between immediate educational outcomes and early childbirth in her 2011 article In high school and pregnant: The importance of educational and fertility expectations for subsequent outcomes (p.822).[6] Finally, Phillip Kaufman, Marilyn McMillen & David Sweet examine students at-risk for dropping out in their report A Comparison of High School Dropout Rates from 1982 to 1992.[7] The group with “the greatest proportion of dropouts in 1990-92 had a child of their own living with them when they were in the 10th grade.”[8] While overall dropout rates have improved from the 1980s to the 1990s, the statistics for those at-risk categories, such as pregnant and parenting students have not improved.[9] They also note that the childcare burden disproportionately falls on females which increases their likelihood of dropping out.[10]

While truancy laws demonstrate a state interest in ensuring each citizen grows into productive a member of society by providing public education, they also pose a barrier to a new teen parent. Each state laws out their own truancy guidelines, which often recommend the proper steps to support students who violate truancy laws. The superintendent is heavily involved around all processes involving students and truancy.

With that, Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on sex in places of employment or public accommodation, requires pregnant and parenting students have equal treatment within the educational system. The passage of this educational amendment in 1972 prohibited discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, and parental status (Title IX, 1972). Prior to Congress passing Title IX, “students who became pregnant or had children were often treated poorly and sometimes were dismissed from high school” (“Supporting,” 2013, p. 4). According to the Department of Education, the following is true:

  • Encouraging pregnant and parenting students to stay in school will have a positive effect on their lives and their children’s lives.[11]
  • It is illegal for schools to exclude a pregnant student from participating in any part of an education program.[12] This includes anywhere from specific advanced placement classes to extracurricular activities.
  • The school must excuse absences and accommodate the pregnant student as long as the student’s doctor deems the absence medically necessary.[13]
  • If any special service is provided to students with temporary medical conditions, they must also be provided to students who are pregnant.[14] For example, if at-home tutoring is offered to another student as a medical accommodation then a pregnant student may also request it.

The class-action truancy case Boyer v. Bedrosian[15] parallels pregnant and parenting students’ situation where they are “not willfully” or “habitually” absent, but rather has a specific obstacle that keep them from attending school because of “special educational or medical needs or caretaking obligations at home.”[16] Almost all of the students in this case had special needs and benefitted from individualized education plans, known as IEPs. While a pregnant or parenting student has differing needs from those of the students in this case, caretaking responsibilities for a child indicates the potential benefit of instituting an IEP to accommodate their educational goals. As the school provides this service to students with medical conditions or special needs, they must also provide it to pregnant or parenting students

Any form of harassment of a pregnant student is a violation of Title IX. The Department of Education notes that harassment can take many forms.[17] A school district must also have a Title IX Coordinator to oversee these policies and any concerns regarding them. If a student feels that their rights have been violated under Title IX, they can file a complaint of discrimination with the Office of Civil Rights through an online form or a claim in court through their own attorney or the court’s clerk’s office.[18]

Overall, pregnant and parenting students should find support in their school to allow them to continue to pursue their academic goals. Title IX guarantees legal protections to these students, and a variety of resources are available at the local, state, and federal level. Although this group is at an increased risk of dropping out of high school compared to their peers, proper precautions should be taken to ensure they do not follow this path.

 


[1] The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. (2013, December). Counting It Up [The Public Costs of Teen Childbearing: Key Data].

[2] Duffy & Levin-Epstein, 2002, p. 1.

[3] Ibid.

[4] The data was originally published in a series of ongoing studies in 1982, 1992, and 2004. It was later analyzed in a report called Late High School Dropouts: Characteristics, Experiences, Changes Across Cohorts published by Ben Dalton, Elizabeth Glennie, and Steven J. Ingels in 2009. The same data is assessed by authors Olga Yakusheva and Phillip Kaufman, Marilyn McMillen & David Sweet in In high school and pregnant: The importance of educational and fertility expectations for subsequent outcomes and A Comparison of High School Dropout Rates from 1982 to 1992.

[5] Roughly one in three girls—28 percent of females to be exact—get pregnant while in high school and are forced to drop out as a result (Dalton, Glennie, Ingels, 2009, vii). The number of students dropping out has reduced from the 1980s to the 1990s, but these numbers demonstrate that the educational system continues to fail in supporting pregnant and parenting students

[6] Yakusheva states that “having a child or becoming pregnant is associated with a 5.9 percent higher probability of dropping out of high school and many mothers put off high school graduation.”

[7] Those considered “at-risk” fall into the following categories: “living in poverty, being of a minority group, being from an intact family, young people having children of their own” (p. v).

[8] Kaufman, P., McMillen, M., & Sweet, D. (October 1996). A Comparison of High School Dropout Rates from 1982 to 1992. National Center for Education Statistics,1-66. Retrieved October 30, 2017.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Male students drop out at only a rate of 6 percent compared to the females’ 28 percent (Kaufman, Marilyn, and Sweet, 2002). The burden is unfairly shifted on female students and necessitated intervention on the school’s behalf as “dropping out of high school is a major life event that severely impacts students’ chances for subsequent educational and occupational opportunities” (Dalton, Glennie, Ingels, 2009, iii).

[11] Supporting the Academic Success of Pregnant and Parenting Students. (2013). U.S. Department of Education,1-23. Retrieved October 30, 2017, p. 4.

[12] Ibid, 5.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Supporting the Academic Success of Pregnant and Parenting Students. (2013). U.S. Department of Education,1-23. Retrieved October 30, 2017, p. 6.

[15] Boyer v. Bedrosian (State of Rhode Island Superior Court 2010).

[16] Boyer v. Bedrosian was brought forth by several parents and legal guardians against the Rhode Island Truancy Court on behalf of their children who were summoned for absences. Boyer v. Bedrosian (2010) states that the Truancy Court was “initially designed with the stated purpose of providing at-risk students with quick and efficient access to services and support they needed to stay in school” (p. 3). The case highlights the issue that the Truancy Court targets students who have a specific obstacle preventing their attendance and penalizes them rather than offering services or support (Boyer v. Bedrosian, 2010, p. 3).

[17] Harassment includes verbal acts and name calling, graphic and written statements, and other conduct that may be humiliating or physically threatening or harmful (“Supporting,” 2013, p. 8).

[18] Supporting the Academic Success of Pregnant and Parenting Students. (2013). U.S. Department of Education,1-23. Retrieved October 30, 2017, p. 14.

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