One Teen's Fight Against the Shameful Way Pregnant Girls Are Treated in American Schools
Mikelia Seals got pregnant in 2013.
At the time, Seals was a junior at Washington-Wilkes Comprehensive High School in Washington, Ga., slated to graduate in May 2015. Complications with her pregnancy began in February 2014, and her doctor ordered bed rest.
So she wouldn't fall behind in her classes, Seals requested homebound instruction. Title IX, a federal law against gender-based discrimination that also protects pregnant students, mandates that this service be available when complications from a pregnancy make a student unable to attend school.
The school refused, telling Seals it no longer provided homebound instruction. According to the National Women's Law Center, the school did provide the instruction for temporarily disabled students.
Wilkes County Schools Superintendent Rosemary Caddell told The Associated Press she hadn't seen the complaint and couldn't comment.
“I counted on my school helping me, but once I was on bed rest I was left to fend for myself,” said Seals, who is now 18. She tried to keep up with her coursework. After she had the baby she returned to school to take a test that would determine whether or not she’d be able to graduate on time. The NWLC says at that point, the school’s principal told her she wasn't going to get credit for the work she’d completed while at home.
Pregnant students often have their rights violated at school, said Lara Kaufmann, senior counsel and director of education policy for at-risk students at the NWLC. These students typically don't file complaints, because “students who are pregnant in school have no idea they have rights under federal law and don't feel comfortable or empowered to challenge their schools.”
Still, the NWLC gets a handful of calls a week from pregnant students who feel their school is trying to keep them from graduating or making up coursework.
Under Title IX, schools have to excuse absences related to pregnancy as long as a doctor says bed rest is medically necessary. Students also have to be allowed to come back to school after they give birth and need to be able to make up the work they missed.
Part of the reason the NWLC filed the complaint is that Seals' high school is a "repeat offender." In 2008, a group of pregnant students said they were denied at-home instruction and weren't allowed to make up the work they missed. They also claimed the school wouldn’t allow them to participate in extracurricular activities or receive honors because they were pregnant. The NWLC tried to negotiate an agreement with the school, but if what Seals alleges is true, little has changed in the past six years.
Seals wants to go back to school and not be penalized. The complaint asks that the school help create a plan so that she can complete the classwork she missed and graduate on time. The NWLC also wants the school to create a policy that complies with Title IX.
“Despite the setback," Seals said, "I’m more determined than ever to do well at school and make a good future for my baby and myself."