ACLU Report: Pregnant and Parenting Students Denied Equal Education Opportunity in California Schools

Report Finds that Schools Deny College-Track Courses and Breastfeeding Access to Pregnant and Parenting Students

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Esmeralda with her son

A report released today by the ACLU of California found that pregnant and parenting students in California are being denied the equal opportunity to succeed in school.

The report, “Breaking Down Educational Barriers for California’s Pregnant & Parenting Students,” found that by refusing access to college-track courses, pushing students towards continuation schools, and restricting breastfeeding and childcare options, schools are blocking paths to success for these students.

“Pregnant and parenting teens want to succeed and graduate. These students can thrive when they have the support they need and that the law requires,” said Angélica Salceda, Equal Justice Works Fellow at the ACLU of Northern California and author of the report. “Doing right by these students can literally mean the difference between a student who doesn’t graduate high school and a student who goes on to college.”

Under federal Title IX and California law, pregnant and parenting students must be provided equal opportunity in school. Due to a lack of awareness of what these laws require, schools are denying pregnant and parenting students access to critical programs, services, and accommodations.

The report examined school districts throughout California’s Central Valley and found that students faced a variety of barriers to completing their education, which are consistent with challenges students face statewide.

Among the report’s key findings

  • Pregnant and parenting students frequently experience stigmatizing behavior in the classroom. One student reported that a teacher constantly shamed students in the middle of class, asking them why they got pregnant and telling them they ruined their lives.
  • Pregnant and parenting students are prevented from taking the A-G courses necessary to apply to many four-year colleges. Of the students in continuation schools that were surveyed, over a quarter reported not being allowed to take college prep classes. One student reported taking the same English class three times because it was the only one she had access to, even though she had already passed it with a good grade.
  • Students are denied a secure and private place to breastfeed or pump milk. Nearly a quarter of the students interviewed said their decision to leave regular school was based entirely on their inability to breastfeed or pump milk at school. Other students reported being allowed to pump milk, but being told they had to do so in a shared public restroom, rather than a private sanitary location. Only 5 of the districts surveyed offered a place for breastfeeding students.
  • Pregnant and parenting students experienced being pushed out of their regular schools and into continuation schools. Over a quarter of students reported that they were encouraged to switch out of their mainstream school, and several reported being forced to do so.

Lydia Piña, a 19-year-old from Tulare County who gave birth to her daughter while she was in high school, experienced a number of barriers as she worked towards her goal of graduating and going to college.

“The local high school wouldn’t let me attend because I was pregnant. I was told that the continuation school was “where all the pregnant students go.” I enrolled in the continuation school, but there was no private space for me to breastfeed,” Lydia said. “When I missed school because my daughter was sick, my teacher wouldn’t let me make up my school work. I had to go to Saturday school to be allowed to walk at graduation, even though my absences were excused. But it was worth it because it was such a special day for me and my daughter.”

According to the report, now is a critical time to address the needs of pregnant and parenting students. Education funding in California has gone through a major overhaul recently under the Local Control Funding Formula, which could be used to support pregnant and parenting students, as they overlap with many of formula’s priority populations.

The report recommends important changes at the local district and statewide level to ensure equal opportunities for pregnant and parenting students. Among the key recommendations:

  • Provide parenting students with a private and secure space on campus for breastfeeding or pumping milk
  • Provide information about and access to the full range of academic options, including A-G courses
  • Train teachers and staff to work with pregnant and parenting students in a way that is supportive, not shaming

The ACLU of California and California Latinas for Reproductive Justice are working with Assemblywoman Garcia on legislation that will protect the rights of parenting students by requiring high schools to provide lactation accommodations.

Learn more

Read the full report, “Breaking Down Educational Barriers for California’s Pregnant & Parenting Students”

Download the Executive Summary

Guide for pregnant and parenting students about their rights at school

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