How are young mothers being treated in schools?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Young Women United
By Mina Itabashi

We at Strong Families support young mothers, because we believe that all women should have the right to decide when and whether to have children, and to parent the children they have with dignity. So when Shanelle told me about Delhi Charter School in rural northeast Louisiana forcing any "suspected student" to take a pregnancy test, and then kicking them out when they tested positive, we both shook our heads in disbelief. It makes it a little better to hear that as soon as ACLU brought attention to this policy (they described it as "a blatant violation of federal law and the U.S. constitution"), there was an uproar across the nation. More then 120,000 people signed an online petition. The Louisiana State Department of Education released a statement telling the school to "immediately revise" its pregnancy test policy. And by the next day, the school's board chairman assured that they will no longer require "suspected" students to take a pregnancy test, and no longer force them to be home-schooled.

But this incident brings up a lot of issues: Why is it that this school policy was not challenged until ACLU took action (apparently this policy has been in place since 2006)? And even if these teen mothers don't get kicked out of school, will they receive the support from their teachers and guidance counselors as they have a right to? How are teen mothers treated in high schools and colleges across the country? How about teen dads? Even if its not as blatant as this policy in Delhi Charter School, we all know that there are many forms of discrimination against youth who want to be parents AND continue receiving education (which really is an unquestionable right). The National Women's Law Center says that they receive a couple of phone calls a month from students who are pregnant or have children, asking for advice on how to deal with the discrimination and pressures that they face at school. As the NLIRH describes it: "the current discourse surrounding young motherhood is both stigmatizing and insensitive, and presents young motherhood as a problem in itself as opposed to the real problems that often surround it, such as poverty and lack of access to timely and high-quality health care services and educational opportunities."

As part of our Mama's Day campaign in May this year, we celebrated and honored young mothers. There were some amazing blog posts, for example by Veronica Bayetti Flores, who wrote about the mothers who are left out of the conversation:
Amidst the celebrations of motherhood we see throughout the month of May, there are many kinds of mothers who are left out of the Hallmark picture. A good number of mothers are not only left out, but actively demonized – even by our supposed allies. Among these reviled mamas, young mothers figure prominently. While most mothers are celebrating May as a month dedicated to them, young moms have the dubious distinction of having May be a month dedicated to ending their experience altogether: May is also Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month. 
Read the full blog post here, and continue to support Strong Families partners who advocate for young parents. Check out Young Women United, which has been instrumental in establishing August 25th as New Mexico's day in Recognition of Young Parents.

Mina is a summer intern at Forward Together, a proud Japanese American raised all over east and southeast Asia. She embraces her identity as a womyn of color and doesn't believe in borders.