Humiliated, But Not Beaten: Fighting Back for Pregnant and Parenting Teens in Washington

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

When eighth-grader Shantelle Hicks learned she was pregnant, she was determined to stick with her education. But the administrators at her New Mexico middle school said she was a “bad example” and told her she couldn’t remain in school.

It didn’t stop there. After the school was forced to readmit her when the ACLU of New Mexico told them their conduct was illegal, Shantelle was forced to stand in front of hundreds of her classmates during a school assembly while the administrators announced that she was pregnant – before anyone but her sister knew.

While this happened in New Mexico, it reminds us of the discrimination, intimidation, and humiliation faced every day by pregnant teenagers in Washington. These are girls who, despite their best efforts, end up dropping out – either because they’ve been overtly kicked out or subtly coerced out.

Many people are surprised when they learn that pregnant and parenting teens are still routinely pushed out of school – most assume it is a thing of the past. Not true.

Over the past year, through the ACLU-WA Pregnant and Parenting Student Project, we have spoken to hundreds of social service providers and youth who share stories about mistreatment:

  • school principals who tell girls they must go to an alternative school;
  • counselors who incorrectly advise girls that they’ll be reported as truant if they take too much time off for doctors’ visits or childbirth;
  • favorite teachers telling pregnant students they’ve “ruined their lives” and may as well “give-up;”
  • peers who taunt and isolate pregnant students.

All of this can be illegal, and all of it contributes to the staggering drop-out rate for pregnant and parenting students. No one knows for sure how many of these students drop out each year, but studies suggest that pregnancy is the leading reason girls drop out of school. And there is strong evidence suggesting that illegal discrimination by school officials is a leading cause.

In an effort to learn more about the experiences of these students and the potentially illegal practices of schools, the ACLU-WA has begun surveying pregnant and parenting teens in Washington. We’re asking them why they dropped out and what, if anything, helped them stay in school. We hope to use this information to promote Model School Policies on the treatment of pregnant and parenting students, and to work with school districts to promote best practices for helping these young women complete their education. We hope to share some preliminary results of the survey soon.

Do you have a story of your own?

If you or someone you know personally has been treated poorly at school because they are pregnant or have a child, please let us know. We may be able to help, and your story may help others in the same situation.

To send a confidential email, click here.