A charter school in Delhi, Louisiana, is making headlines for a controversial school policy that requires students suspected of pregnancy to take pregnancy tests — and kicks students out who test positive. Does this policy have any merit?
The school has taken a harsh stance on teen pregnancy. Its Policy Manual outlines how suspected student pregnancies are handled — and not tolerated. “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 policy states. It goes on to say, “If a student is determined to be pregnant and wishes to continue to attend Delhi Charter School, the student will be required to a course of home study that will be provided by the school.”
And if a student refuses the test? Well, then she is treated as pregnant and turned away from the classroom regardless.
What message is this sending?
The school’s policy, which states it is in line with the high standards of behavior expected of students at the school, singles out teen mothers at a time when they are particularly vulnerable. Education experts say this could change their lives forever.
Changing the policy
A petition on Change.org is seeking to push Delhi Charter School into changing the policy. Filed by Natasha Vianna, a Massachusetts mom who gave birth to her daughter at age 17, the policy seeks to have Delhi end the mandatory testing and also provide pregnant students with the same good education afforded all their students. “I guess the first thing that hit me was that their rights are being violated in so many ways,” says Vianna. “Young women… deserve an education. We are all raising the future.” Vianna, now 24, works as the Teen Parent Ambassador at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. She says that what these girls really need is support — someone on their side telling them that they can do it. “I really hope that school officials will really look at this [policy],” says Vianna.
“Beyond issues of discrimination and illegality associated with policies such as the Delhi Charter School’s, such policies send clear messages to teen girls that ‘you don’t matter, and you don’t belong here.’ This can be a devastating blow for an already-vulnerable young woman,” says education expert Celine Provini, Ph.D., editor of Education World.
This is more than likely the end of a girl’s high school career, statistically speaking. “Given how they are often treated, it is not surprising that about 70 percent of teen mothers leave school. And once they leave, the odds are not good that they will complete their education. Fewer than four in 10 mothers who give birth before the age of 18 have a diploma,” says Provini. “We know that lacking a high school diploma profoundly impacts one’s future earning power. So keeping pregnant teens in school is more important than ever. Sadly, girls who leave school due to pregnancy report that they would have stayed in school if they had received more support from the adults at school.”
What do parents think? The parents we talked to said that this policy misses the mark. “I don’t think shaming kids or making them wear a scarlet letter is the answer. While parenting and the setting of good values and decision making skills begins at home, continuing education and a strong support system from the school is important as well. Making someone feel ostracized, wrong, or shamed will only exacerbate the situation and lead to more problems down the road,” says mom of two, Cate O’Malley who writes Sweetnicks, a blog about food and family.
What do you think? Does this school policy fairly target teen pregnancy or is it singling out girls who need help?