I recently attended a conference call through the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) titled “Know Your Rights: A Conference Call for Pregnant and Parenting Students.” It was moderated by Melanie Ross Levin, NWLC’s senior outreach manager, and the two presenters were Jeannette Pai-Espinosa (president of the National Crittenton Foundation) and Lara Kaufmann (NWLC’s senior counsel).
You can read my full notes here, or listen to the actual call here. In short, the conference call discussed the rights that pregnant and parenting women have with regard to education. Lara Kaufmann explained how Title IX protects students, faculty, and staff at schools with federal funding from sex discrimination and how it applies to pregnant and parenting students. Jeannette Pai-Espinosa introduced her organization, explaining how it provides trauma-informed services to pregnant and parenting women. Afterwards, the two answered questions that participants sent in.
I’m not pregnant or parenting, nor do I have any intention to be either while I’m still in school, but I nonetheless found the conference call absolutely fascinating and really enlightening. I knew that Title IX did more than protecting women’s rights in athletics, but I had no idea that it was the basis of pregnant and parenting students’ right to equal education. It also never occurred to me that a pregnant student should be treated like a student with any other temporary medical condition, since that’s in essence what pregnancy is.
Ms. Kaufmann mentioned several common violations of Title IX relating to pregnant and parenting students, and answered many questions about them, too. She stressed the fact that schools have to work with pregnant/parenting students in order to best accommodate their needs, whether it’s dragging their feet regarding makeup work or properly counseling students for the future.
I was surprised that nobody mentioned the recent case in Arkansas, where a teen mother who was valedictorian was forced to share the title, presumably because she is a black single parent. On one hand, I can understand that a school wouldn’t what to recognize a pregnant or parenting student (that goes for girls and boys), since an administration wouldn’t want to seem like it’s encouraging students to have unprotected sex. However, a GPA and subsequent honor shouldn’t have anything to do with a student’s personal life.
Melanie Ross Levin asked all the participants in the call to take action to ensure the pregnant and parenting students are given the rights they deserve. One way to do this is for organizations to sign the NWLC petition in support of the Pregnant and Parenting Students Access to Education Act of 2011. This bill, originally proposed in 2009, will greatly even the playing field for pregnant and parenting students. (You can read more about it here.) The petition will be sent to the bill’s sponsors, Jared Polis and Judy Chu. Your organization can sign on here. If you don’t have an organization to sign on, you could always write to Reps. Polis and Chu independently.
I dedicated one of my first posts to Fraydel bat Faigel zikhrona l’brakha (may her memory be blessed) an amazing woman who was actually thrown out of law school because she became pregnant (while married, mind you). In previous generations, it was totally accepted for employers to fire women because they were pregnant. That’s why I think it’s so great that pregnant and parenting women have advocates, and are fighting for their right to have an education. If women with children can’t get a good education, they can’t get good jobs, and they can’t make great salaries, so they can’t afford to go back to school, so they can’t get a better job…etc. Isn’t it easier to stop the vicious cycle before it starts?