Today, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) filed a complaint against Georgia’s Washington-Wilkes Comprehensive High School (WWCHS) and Wilkes County Schools for violating Title IX, the federal civil rights law that protects students from sex discrimination, including pregnancy discrimination. The complaint alleges that WWCHS is violating Title IX in a number of ways, such as excluding pregnant students from receiving homebound instruction services made available to students with other medical conditions, and refusing to excuse pregnancy-related absences.
The complaint, filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s regional Office for Civil Rights in Atlanta, details the discrimination experienced by Mikelia Seals, a WWCHS student who was pregnant during the 2013-2014 school year. Mikelia was seven months pregnant when her doctor told her she needed to go on bed rest because she was at risk of premature delivery. Mikelia and her mother then asked Mikelia’s guidance counselor for homebound instruction. The guidance counselor told Mikelia that WWCHS doesn’t provide homebound instruction services (not true). So Mikelia did the best she could with the work she got from her individual teachers – that is, until the principal told her she would not get any credit for that work or for the semester because she had exceeded the allowable number of unexcused absences. She never had the chance to finish the semester and never received a report card. The new school year starts in a couple of weeks and she is worried that she will not be able to graduate in Spring 2015 as scheduled. She hopes to go to nursing school after she graduates.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time NWLC has represented WWCHS students. NWLC brought compliance problems to the school district’s attention back in 2008. Apparently things have not improved since then, even though in the interim (1) the Georgia Department of Education (at NWLC’s urging) adopted a new homebound instruction policy making it clear that eligible pregnant students have a right to homebound instruction; and (2) the U.S. Department of Education issued new guidance reminding schools of their obligations to treat pregnant and parenting students fairly and excuse pregnancy-related absences.
Hopefully, this time WWCHS and the school district will make the changes necessary to comply with the law, welcome Mikelia back to school, and help her to catch up so she can graduate on time. That is the least they can do. Pregnant students and young mothers should not have to beg to continue their education.