ACLU investigation shows nearly half of school districts lack specific policies to support pregnant and parenting students.
LINCOLN, Neb – Today the ACLU of Nebraska released a white paper evaluating policies and practices in Nebraska schools to accommodate the needs of pregnant and parenting students. Protecting Their Health, Protecting Their Future: A Review of Nebraska School Policies & Practices for Pregnant and Parenting Students includes analysis from nearly all 250 public school districts in Nebraska. The information was obtained through open records requests to the school districts during summer and fall of 2016.
According to the ACLU, school districts have a legal obligation to ensure educational access and make accommodations for pregnant and parenting students under both federal and state law. For example, Nebraska’s Equal Opportunity in Education Act prohibits the application of any rule which discriminates based on a pregnancy of a person. The ACLU’s investigation found most school districts lacked clear policies for pregnant or parenting students when it comes to absences, alternative education options, breastfeeding and childcare. Nebraska’s teen birth rate is higher than the national average and thus it is even more important that Nebraska schools have policies and practices to accommodate the needs of pregnant and parenting students.
“Nebraskans across the political spectrum value education and understand the need for all students to have an opportunity to succeed. Students who are pregnant or parenting have the right to stay in school and to complete their education. Our communities will be healthier and stronger when we ensure pregnant and parenting students can succeed in their education. This is about students’ rights, gender equity, and reproductive justice. Working together we can use this report as a wake-up call to establish policies and practices in Nebraska schools that mirror best practices and ensure no student should have to choose between an education and caring for their child,” said ACLU of Nebraska Executive Director Danielle Conrad.
The lack of policies can impact educational goals, according to organizations that work with students. The D2 Center in Omaha works to connect out-of-school and disengaged youth with an educational pathway. Their Executive Director Greg Emmel says that about 25% of those in their program are pregnant or parenting. “We do cross referrals with Early Childhood Services Teen and Young Parent Program. Pregnancy and parenting are serious issues negatively impacting educational goals,” says Emmel. “I wish there were opportunities on site for teen parents to bring their children to school with them!”
While the ACLU report revealed a significant lack of uniformity across Nebraska in regards to these issues the report also identified some best practices that are happening in Nebraska schools that are deserving of commendation and that can serve as a model to other Nebraska schools. For example, through the Sixpence Early Learning Fund, Nebraska does have more in-school child care programs than many states. However, these are isolated as 90% of schools have no provisions related to childcare.
“Being pregnant while a teen shouldn’t be the end of a student’s education, and it doesn’t have to be,” said Conrad. “While our survey showed many school districts simply haven’t thought through the needs of pregnant and parenting students, we found a number of school districts have extensive policies and programs in place. They can serve as a role model for school districts around the state to ensure teen parents have access to quality education without sacrificing the wellbeing of their children.”