Calling a charter school’s policy on pregnant students illegal, Louisiana education officials will require the Delhi Charter School to drop its classroom ban on pregnant students and the ability to mandate pregnancy tests for students suspected of being pregnant.
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The state-funded school in Delhi, La., says in its “Student Pregnancy Policy” that pregnant girls should leave school or study at home.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana brought attention to the policy on Monday, calling on the school to drop the rule or face legal action. By Tuesday evening, state officials agreed that the policy violated federal law.
"We are requiring an immediate change to the policy," the Louisiana State Department of Education said in a statement Tuesday night.
A letter dated Monday from Michael Higgins, director of law and policy in the Louisiana office of school choice, to the school says it has until Aug. 16 to provide documentation showing a change in policy. In the letter, released to TODAY.com Tuesday evening, the state asks for a policy that “does not discriminate against pregnant students or students perceived to be pregnant” and says that “under no circumstances shall the school require any student to take a pregnancy test.”
The school, which has approximately 700 students from kindergarten to 12th grade, said earlier in the day that although there have never been any complaints about the policy, it was under legal review “to ensure that necessary revisions are made so that our school is in full compliance with constitutional law.”
The ACLU sent the school a letter on Monday, saying that the policy violates federal law and the U.S. Constitution, and threatening legal action if it is not revised immediately.
“The policy discriminates against female students not just for being pregnant but even for the possibility that they might be pregnant, and treats them as though pregnancy was some kind of contagious disease by telling them they can’t stay in school,” Marjorie Esman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, told TODAY.com. “That is a gross violation of the law and their right to have an education.”
The ACLU says the policy violates Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the federal law that bans discrimination based on gender in educational programs, as well as the equal protection and due process clauses of the Constitution. The policy is discriminatory because it treats girls who are pregnant or suspected of being pregnant differently from all other students, the ACLU says.
“What a school should do is treat pregnancy as any other medical condition and allow the student to participate fully in anything that she’s medically capable of participating in,” Esman said, noting the policy doesn’t say anything about male students who father children.
The Delhi school policy says that if a student is suspected of being pregnant, a parent conference will be held and the school will have the right to require female students to take pregnancy tests and refer those girls to a doctor of its choice.
Pregnant students can’t attend classes on campus; they must study at study at home. Girls suspected of being pregnant who refuse to take the test will be forced to study at home or leave school.
In outlining its policy, the school mentions the high expectations it has for students and the school’s high standards. “Delhi Charter School has established an environment whereby the conduct of its students must be in keeping with the school’s goals and objectives relative to character development,” the policy reads. “The Delhi Charter School curriculum will maintain an environment in which all students will learn and exhibit acceptable character traits that govern language, gestures, physical actions, and written words.”
According to the ACLU, 70 percent of teen moms leave school, in part because of illegal discrimination.
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