by Amanda Stone, Fellow,
National Women's Law Center
“Q, take off those sunglasses. I want to look in your eyes when I tell you this. You’re off the Cheerios. I can’t have a pregnant girl on the squad. You’re a disgrace.” These are the words that Sue Sylvester, coach of the school’s award-winning competitive cheerleading squad, the Cheerios, told pregnant teen Quinn Fabray at the end of this week’s episode of "Glee," the new hit Fox musical high school series.
Can Sue do this? Absolutely not! "Glee" is set in what appears to be a public high school in Ohio. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits schools that receive federal funds from discriminating against students on the basis of sex, including pregnancy. In fact, the Title IX regulations explicitly provide protection to pregnant students. Specifically, the provision prohibits discrimination based on a student’s “pregnancy, childbirth, false pregnancy, termination of pregnancy or recovery therefrom.”
Practically speaking, what does Title IX mean for pregnant students? Schools subject to Title IX must provide these students with equal access to all school programs and activities. This means schools may not assume that pregnant students cannot attend school or participate in school activities. In fact, these are precisely the types of outmoded stereotypes Congress intended to address when it passed Title IX.
So what does this mean for schools? Well, a school cannot penalize pregnant students for violating its moral code. Nor can it require pregnant students to take steps not required of all students with medical conditions requiring the treatment of a physician. A pregnant student’s participation in school activities should be made in consultation with the student and her doctor and a school may not erect hurdles, large or small, to discourage her participation.
Sue’s actions clearly violated Title IX, but kicking Quinn off of the cheerleading squad also made bad policy. Studies indicate that participation in school activities helps to keep students engaged in school, thus making it less likely they will give up and drop out. Unfortunately, what happened to Quinn is not unique -– schools all over the country still discriminate against pregnant students, 37 years after Title IX was enacted. Shame on Sue!