June 27, 2013 — The Department of Education in a letter on Tuesday reminded school districts, colleges and universities that federal law requires equal access to education for pregnant and parenting students, Education Week's "Rules for Engagement" reports.
Title IX guarantees equal opportunities for all students. For pregnant students, that means they should be treated the same as other students and have pregnancy-related absences excused, according to the letter. Pregnant students do not have to provide medical certification that they can be in school, and they should be allowed to return to their normal academic and extracurricular activities after the pregnancy, the letter said.
Disparities in Education Attainment
Seth Galanter, acting assistant secretary for the department's office for civil rights, noted in the letter that 26% of all students -- including about one-third of female students -- who drop out of school cite parenthood as a major factor in their decision. He added that only 51% of women who give birth before age 20 earn a high school diploma by age 22, while only 2% of those who give birth before age 18 earn a college degree by age 30.
"This low education attainment means that young parents are more likely than their peers to be unemployed or underemployed, and the ones who do find jobs will, on average, earn significantly less than their peers," Galanter wrote. "By ensuring that the student has the opportunity to maintain her academic status, we can encourage young parents to work toward graduation instead of choosing to drop out of school," he added.
Galanter included a pamphlet on supporting the academic needs of pregnant and parenting students and a directory of local Department of Education offices for civil rights, which can provide technical assistance. In the last four years, the department has received 59 complaints of violations of the rights of pregnant and parenting students.
Lisa Maatz -- vice president of government relations for the American Association of University Women -- said, "Pregnant and parenting students have always been protected under Title IX, but this guidance provides much-needed clarification and concrete steps schools must take to support these students" (Shah, "Rules for Engagement," Education Week, 6/25).