MERCER: Are pregnant girls in SD really mistreated?A report arrived giving South Dakota a big, empty zero for failing to require the equal treatment in our schools of students who are pregnant.
PIERRE – How ’bout that kindergarten student who violated the Oklahoma City school system’s dress code by wearing a university jersey to class?
It was a Michigan jersey. That was what got him into trouble. An Oklahoma or Oklahoma State jersey would have been fine.
We sometimes have unusual expectations for our public schools, it seems, no matter which state. Just the other day, a report arrived giving South Dakota a big, empty zero for failing to require the equal treatment in our schools of students who are pregnant.
The report came from the National Women’s Law Center. Actually, this was the second time the report arrived. Evidently the first time didn’t generate much publicity on the topic. The center re-issued the report “in tandem” with the fall start of school classes again.
The subject line for the email from the center said: “Report shows that South Dakota is among the worst states in failing to support pregnant teens.”
So your scribe took a look. Sure enough, there was the zero. Actually a whole row of zeroes, one for each category the center deemed worthy of measure.
The center has a 40-year history of fighting for women’s rights on all fronts in our nation. Based on their accomplishments the center’s leaders, directors and Leadership 35 committee members must be some of the brightest people you might ever meet.
The center’s motto: “With the law on your side, great things are possible!”
When people this upstanding and intelligent give South Dakota a whole lot of zeroes, attention needs to be paid.
The specific hook of the report is a general allegation of non-compliance by public schools with the federal Title IX equal-rights law in regard to pregnant students.
The center must have performed quite a mountain of legal research to come up with ratings for each of the 50 states.
Four states received a zero score of a possible 17. Beside South Dakota they were Wyoming, Virginia and Nebraska.
One state, Idaho, actually received a negative 0.5. Altogether 18 states received scores of 2.5 or under.
Topping the list was California with 15 points, followed by Florida and Oregon at 14.5.
The scoring included up to 10 points for parenting and pregnancy programs; four points for a definition of excused absences; one point for homebound services; one point for anti-discrimination provisions; and one point for a directory of programs.
Not being a professional researcher or lawyer I don’t know how the center’s staff could dig through all of the laws, rules and policies at the state level in South Dakota much less in each of our local-controlled public school districts.
A few digital searches of the Legislative Research Council’s database of South Dakota laws and state rules showed there might be reason for all of those zeroes. There’s not much regarding specific references to pregnant students.
On the other hand, nothing stood out in memory about problems in South Dakota schools regarding how pregnant teens are treated.
Nothing came to mind from the many struggles over abortion restrictions at the Legislature.
Nor did anything jog loose from the talks in years past with families whose daughters were pregnant while in high school.
In fact it seemed odd that in a state where roadside billboards call for protection of the unborn that we would allow school systems to mistreat pregnant students.
The National Women’s Law Center seemed disappointed, based on comments in the report, so few girls had come forward with lawsuits claiming Title IX violations over their pregnancies.
There would seem to be a basis someplace for the center to spend resources on this topic.
There isn’t much in the way of legal precedent, either. The court decisions cited by the center primarily dealt with pregnancy and employment.
There was one federal case, regarding the exclusion of pregnant young women from the National Honor Society.
Like the Oklahoma City dress code that forced the kindergarten student to turn his Michigan jersey inside out, common sense seems to have escaped that particular school system.
Still, all of those zeroes for South Dakota… why? Are they justified? Are we ignoring problems? Are we getting by on just common sense?
A deeper dig into state rules for South Dakota’s public schools found there is indeed a strong legal protection.
It doesn’t deal specifically with pregnant students or Title IX, but its breadth and depth surely do.
It’s part of the code of professional ethics for educators, No. 6 on a list of 10 obligations to students:
“Accord just and equitable treatment to every student, regardless of race, color, creed, sex, sexual preference, age, marital status, handicapping condition, national origin or ethnic background.”
Are teen pregnancies a common event in South Dakota? The state Health Department publishes statistics showing ages of mothers at the time they give birth to their children.
In 2009 there were 10 births to mothers ages 12 through 14. In 2010 there also were 10.
For 15- through 17-year old mothers, there were 303 births in 2009 and 259 in 2010.
Expand that age bracket to 15 through 19, and there were 1,092 in 2009 and 973 in 2010.
South Dakota’s state departments of social services and health provide an assortment of resources and assistance to pregnant women and new mothers of all ages, including child care subsidies so that parents can pursue education and employment.
All of this requires knowing where to look. And maybe that is the real value of the center’s report for South Dakota.
Perhaps our zeroes in the National Women’s Law Center ratings result more from poor packaging by our state government and local schools, than from societal disregard for the equal rights of our pregnant daughters.
Something tells me South Dakota won’t get any zeroes next year. If we do, we must take a closer look.