Being pregnant at a young age can be an emotional and often stressful experience. One of the most important things to remember while navigating your pregnancy is that you have rights, including the right to an education, even once you have the baby.
Ultimately, both the public and private education system exists to provide students—including pregnant girls—with the support and resources they need in order to succeed. If your school or individual teachers are trying to interfere with your right to an education because you are pregnant, this is called pregnancy discrimination, and it is illegal across the country.
Under a federal law known as Title IX, no student can legally face discrimination related to education on the basis of their sex. As it is women and girls who bear children, Title IX extends to pregnant girls and women of any age.
Title IX is a federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in education. The wording of the law is quite brief, but leaves little room for alternative interpretation:
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, 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.”
This wording is quite clear that, unequivocally, women cannot be banned from attending school simply because of their gender, or any other factors related to their gender (such as pregnancy and gender-related health concerns) in the United States.
Private Education and Religious Schools
Although Title IX is specifically focused on educational programs that receive public funding, many pregnant women in Texas and elsewhere attend private schools, charter schools and religious education institutions such as Catholic or Hebrew schools.
One of the core reasons why anti-discrimination policies are so airtight in public education programs is because they receive funding from the government. When a school is being funded through private means (such as donations and tuition fees), it can be more challenging to enforce the guidelines that school must follow.
Title IX does have a few exemptions, including those that allow single-gender schools to exist. One such exemption is that religious schools do not have to apply the law in any way that is deemed inconsistent with the tenants of their religion. In the past, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has granted exemptions on a number of occasions for issues concerning factors such as pregnancy, sports participation and gender identity.
Ultimately, religious schools may be able to evade the consequences other schools would normally face for behavior that could be considered discriminatory towards pregnant and parenting students. Despite this unfortunate reality, the fact remains that all pregnant students have the right to a discrimination-free education, and are able to complete their studies at any of the public schools.
Forms of Pregnancy Discrimination
Even students who know that they have the right to attend school while pregnant may be unaware of just how prevalent pregnancy discrimination is in schools and workplaces. Although your teachers may not stop you from attending class while working toward a high school diploma or similar, they may be discriminatory in other ways. Some discriminatory behaviors to watch out for include:
- Not making accommodations for medical appointments associated with pregnancy, such as having an ultrasound (even with a doctor’s note)
- Not making accommodations for physical needs associated with pregnancy, such as needing to use the restroom
- Barring students from extracurricular and athletic activities
- Allowing personal opinions regarding pregnancy to impact a student’s grades
- Making negative comments about the pregnancy or discouraging you from participating in classes or school activities
If you believe you are facing pregnancy discrimination, the first place to go is to your school administration. Hopefully, through an open conversation, you will be able to identify the changes that need to be made. However, if your school administration is not cooperating, you have resources that can help.
One useful tool is staying informed and aware of your rights. Learning more about Title IX and its potential applications in your life could certainly be of use. If you feel as though your right to an equal education has been violated, and your school has not taken the right steps to solve the issue at hand, you can file a complaint to the OCR.
If you do not feel as though your current school is well-equipped for you given your pregnancy, you can make the decision to transfer schools or pursue homeschooling.
Even if you do not face discrimination or harassment because you are pregnant, you may still find completing high school to be a challenge. It can be hard to ensure that medical appointments will not interfere with your academic schedule and pregnancy can wear down your health. On top of everything else, the stigma against pregnant young women is still all too prevalent, even if it does not show itself as outright discrimination.
If completing high school through traditional methods is proving to be challenging, you have other options to graduate high school. As previously mentioned, homeschooling is an option. The state of Texas also offers a virtual school network that can allow students to attend classes online.
This option may be particularly flexible if you are a parenting student, struggle with attendance or school participation or have medical concerns related to your pregnancy. This network allows for students from grades three to twelve to attend school full-time from virtual classrooms led by qualified teachers. Upon completion of online studies, students will receive the same high school education as any other student.
The most important thing to remember going forward is that you have the same rights now that you are pregnant as you did before. Just like any other high school student, you have the right to learn and work towards a better future for yourself, and your school has an obligation to respect these rights.