One Louisiana public school's no-nonsense approach to preventing teen pregnancy is "in blatant violation of federal law and the U.S. Constitution," the American Civil Liberties Union says.
According to Delhi Charter School policy, students "suspected" of being pregnant are required to take a pregnancy test. If the test proves positive, or if a student declines to take the test, she'll no longer be permitted to take classes on campus and must either transfer to another school or begin a home school program. From the student handbook:
If an administrator or teacher suspects a student is pregnant, a parent conference will be held. The school reserves the right to require any female student to take a pregnancy test to confirm whether or not the suspected student is in fact pregnant. The school further reserves the right to refer the suspected student to a physician of its choice. If the test indicates that the student is pregnant, the student will not be permitted to attend classes on the campus of Delhi Charter School.
If a student is determined to be pregnant and wishes to continue to attend Delhi Charter School, the student will be required to pursue a course of home study that will be provided by the school… Any student who is suspected of being pregnant and who refuses to submit to a pregnancy test shall be treated as a pregnant student and will be offered home study opportunities. If home study opportunities are not acceptable, the student will be counseled to seek other educational opportunities.
The ACLU is demanding that Delhi immediately suspend the policy, noting that it violates Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded educational programs. According to Title IX, schools cannot be excluded from "any class or extracurricular activity, on the basis of such student's pregnancy, childbirth, false pregnancy, termination of pregnancy or recovery therefrom."
The school also notes in its handbook that it reserves the right to send girls suspected of being pregnant to a physician of the school's choice. Various other policies in the 216-page manual permit "reasonable corporal punishment of unruly students," defined as "paddling of the student's buttocks," and prohibition of public displays of affection because they "show disdain for good taste." According to the handbook, PDA include, but are not limited to "holding hands on school premises, hugging, kissing, leaning against each other and sitting in each others' laps."
In a letter to Delhi school officials Aug. 6, ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie Esman points out that school policies also violate the Equal Protection Clause and Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment "by imposing an irrebuttable presumption that pregnant students are unable to continue to attend classes" and "raises serious concerns of vagueness in violation of the First Amendment."
Delhi's school policies are surfacing as the education gap between teen moms and those who didn't have a teen birth grows. According to a 2010 report by nonprofit research center Child Trends, 51 percent of teen mothers have a high school diploma, compared with 89 percent of women who were not teen mothers. For teens who give birth before the age of 18, their likelihood of graduating high school is even lower -- just 38 percent have a diploma.
According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, Louisiana holds the sixth highest teen pregnancy rate in the country, and "lack of education is a big factor," Louisiana State University student Shea Leger told The Daily Reveille.
The ACLU notes that about 70 percent of teenagers who give birth drop out of high school, in part due to actions by schools that force pregnant students out. Data from the National Center for Educational Statistics show that pregnancy is already a leading cause of dropping out of high school -- 30 percent of teenage girls cited pregnancy or parenthood as a reason for leaving before completion.
Overall, high school dropouts cost taxpayers between $320 billion and $350 billion a year in lost wages, taxable income, health, welfare and incarceration costs, among others. Dropouts are also a cost to themselves: of the 3.8 million students that started high school last fall, a quarter won't earn a diploma. Those who don't finish will earn $200,000 less than those who do over their lifetime.
Dropouts are also not eligible for 90 percent of the jobs in our economy, and a student drops out of high school every 26 seconds in the U.S., contributing to a rising unemployment rate.