DEAR ABBY: This is in response to "D.B. in Ohio," the 16-year-old unmarried, pregnant high school student. You were correct in telling her that she is entitled to an education. Under federal law, it is illegal for a school to treat a student differently because of pregnancy or related conditions, childbirth or marital status.
Pregnant and parenting students have the right to remain in their regular school and participate in all school activities, such as honors programs, clubs and graduation programs. Moreover, participation in special programs or schools for pregnant and parenting students must be completely voluntary and must provide the student with an education comparable to that which she would have received at her regular school.
As to D.B.'s absences for doctor's appointments, the law requires her school to excuse her absences due to pregnancy or parenting, including medical appointments for her or her child.
It is unfortunate that at a time when they need an education the most, pregnant and parenting students are illegally denied their educational rights.
To educate school officials, students and advocates, the California Women's Law Center has written a "Model Policy on the Civil Rights of Pregnant and Parenting Students," which can be accessed at www.cwlc.org. This document clearly explains the legal rights of pregnant and parenting students.
Thank you for educating the public about these important civil rights. -- NANCY SOLOMON, WOMEN'S LAW CENTER, LOS ANGELES
DEAR NANCY: You're welcome. However, in many cases it's readers like you who educate me.
Readers, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal law that protects pregnant students from discrimination. The federal government acknowledged that pregnant teenage girls are often treated differently than the teenage fathers. Of course, that is blatant sex discrimination -- and grounds for you-know-what. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: I run a program that includes a support group for teen parents. The only reason D.B.'s school should notify her mother of absences is if they are unexcused truancies. Therefore, she should make sure her absences are excused by either her mother or the doctor's office, and return to school immediately following the appointments that cannot be scheduled after school.
She should also look very carefully before agreeing to attend alternative education programs for pregnant teens. In many of them she could be placed alongside students who have been kicked out of regular schools because of disciplinary or criminal issues. If that's the case in her community, she should insist on a real education and stay in regular school, big belly and all.
Just because she's in a difficult situation doesn't mean she can't get a great education and raise a wonderful child. Working with teen moms has enabled me to develop an even greater respect for my mother-in-law, a former single teen mom who successfully raised my wonderful husband. -- SOMEONE WHO CARES IN CALIFORNIA
DEAR SOMEONE: Thank you for your heartfelt advice. I agree that with planning and determination it can be done.
My readers may be interested to know that, according to U.S. government statistics, the teen birth rate is at a record low, the 10th year in a row it has fallen.
What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS, and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)
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