Bobby Jindal’s public school system is no stranger to controversy. The sweeping statewide voucher system that has privatized much of public education has funneled students into institutions with wholly fantasized curriculums that include the Trail of Tears as “leading Indians to Christ”. Now, it seems things in Louisiana public schools have gone from bad to worse: public schools have begun forcing “suspected pregnant” students to take pregnancy tests, and then expelling them if they refuse or test positive.
“The School Reserves the Right” To Take Away Yours
The Delhi Charter School, an institution subsidized heavily by the Louisiana taxpayers through a voucher program, seems to be rife with questionable practices. The school’s policy allows for “reasonable corporal punishment of unruly students,” which the school defines as “reasonable, physical force.” But the school’s “Student Pregnancy Policy” may be the most horrifying thing in the handbook.
The section on the Student Pregnancy Policy – and yes, there is an entire section for this matter - prefaces by explaining that the DCS has very high standards for morality and character, and teenage pregnancy just doesn’t fit into the school’s “goals and objectives relative to character development.”
Apparently, being a pregnant teenager is more offensive to the moral sensibilities of the school’s administration than an adult hitting a child.
The school – which points out that it is a “school of choice” despite being taxpayer funded – claims the right to administer a pregnancy test to any female student at any time. The school also calls a parent conference any time that a student is suspected to be pregnant. If a student has a positive pregnancy test, she and her parents will be given the option to continue her studies at the Delhi Charter School from home, or to “seek other educational opportunities.” And if a student refuses? “Any student suspected of being pregnant and who refuses to submit to a pregnancy test shall be treated as a pregnant student” – and asked to leave the school.
Of course, the policy isn’t just invasive but completely sexist. Nothing in the school’s policies seeks to discipline any male students involved in teenage pregnancies, even though one would expect that if teenage pregnancy is indicative of low moral fiber, so too is impregnating a teenager. But nowhere in the 216-page handbook are there any repercussions for male students who have sex and any resultant pregnancies.
Equality Under the Law(?)
Apart from being invasive and sexist, the Delhi Charter School’s policy is completely illegal. Not only does the law violate students’ Fourth Amendment protection from unwarranted search and seizure – pregnancy is not a crime, so even a visibly pregnant belly would not satisfy the legal requirement for probable cause – but also the right to privacy that the Supreme Court has upheld on the basis of multiple Constitutional amendments.
The school rule is even in direct violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender for all federally funded educational institutions. There’s even a provision which deals with the issue of pregnancy and childbirth, which stipulates that a student cannot be barred from any school program “including any class or extracurricular activity, on the basis of such student’s pregnancy, childbirth, false pregnancy, termination of pregnancy or recovery therefrom.”
The ACLU has sent a letter the the Delhi Charter School Board of Managers, threatening legal action if the policy persists. The school has responded, saying that a lawyer representing the school is currently reviewing the pregnancy policy.
Unfortunately, pregnant women are discriminated against in many ways in American society. The US is the only developed nation that does not provide any mandatory paid maternity leave. Insurance companies often do not cover the full cost of pre-natal care and labor and delivery costs, and each uncomplicated delivery is estimated to cost more than $10,000.
These barriers that come with pregnancy and childcare disproportionately affect teen mothers. 70% of school-age girls who give birth drop out of school. All schools – especially those in Louisiana, a state that boasts the 18th highest teen pregnancy rate - should be supporting teen mothers through their education. When schools instead choose to punish students who already have the odds stacked against them, the system becomes even more broken and unfair.
In a state like Louisiana, it’s particularly unfair. The state’s legislature rejected comprehensive sex education, leaving one-third of the state’s students in abstinence-only education, and the other two-thirds with no sex education at all. To top off that disastrous policy with another that punishes teen pregnancy crosses the line from irresponsible to downright reprehensible.
With the attention of the ACLU focused on the Delhi Charter School, there is little doubt that the policy will be removed as quickly and quietly as possible. Unfortunately, the consistent systemic failures in Louisiana’s school system will take a lot more than the threat of a lawsuit to correct.