Complaints from girls in 2002 indicate the Board of Education is only paying lip service to the law and school personnel are sabotaging girls’ attempts to get an education. The NYCLU calls on Levy to implement immediate training of all staff on girls’ rights.
Hostility, harassment and outright discrimination are discouraging girls from staying in school when they are pregnant or parenting, and Schools Chancellor Harold Levy “gets an ‘F’ for failing to protect these girls,” said Donna Lieberman, New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director. In a letter sent Friday to Levy, Lieberman detailed three complaints in 2002 that indicate the Board is violating its own policy of equal education opportunity. In the letter she reminded Levy that in the past year and a half, the NYCLU had repeatedly warned him that discrimination was widespread and persistent but nothing concrete has been done to stop it.
“Discriminating against pregnant girls is unlawful, harmful and incredibly short-sighted. Board of Education policy may sound good on paper, but it’s just empty words unless it is practiced throughout the school system and girls are helped to stay in school,” Lieberman said.
In the letter to Levy, Lieberman noted that helping pregnant and parenting teens is fiscally sound, in addition to being legally appropriate. The letter notes that high school dropouts are more likely to be unemployed and to need social services, and that they earn significantly less than high school graduates.
“Education is one of the most important things for the future well being of a teenage mother and her baby. Life is tough enough for a young girl with a baby, and the Board of Education should stop making it tougher,” said Lieberman.
The NYCLU urged Levy: to re-affirm forcefully the rights of pregnant or parenting students to be free from harassment and discrimination; to designate an ombudsperson to oversee compliance with Board policy and the law; and to implement immediate training of staff and faculty on the rights and needs of such students. Lieberman offered to work with the Board of Education to design and conduct such a program. She said the benefits to young girls and their babies would be great while the budgetary impact would be negligible.
The NYCLU brought the following three recent complaints to Levy’s attention:
- A seventh grade student in Brooklyn was told by a school counselor that she should stay at home because she was pregnant and that her pregnancy was distracting to other students. Making matters worse, an attendance officer told the girl that she should permanently transfer out of her school.
- Takenya Tucker, a 17-year old eleventh grader at the Lillian Rashkis School of Telecommunications in Brooklyn, has been barred from taking her baby on the school bus with her, preventing the baby from attending the school-based day care program. Lieberman said this policy was unlawful and makes it harder for Takenya to stay in school.
- Tiffany Flores, a 16-year old student at John Jay High School in Brooklyn enrolled her two-month old son in the school’s LYFE day care program. Then an Assistant Principal ordered the baby removed unless Tiffany met an arbitrary, discriminatory and punitive condition. She was told she would have to sign a contract stipulating her termination from the LYFE program if she failed a single course. Lieberman said “the proposed contract pushes Ms. Flores to drop out of school and imposes unique and irrational academic conditions.” Lieberman said such conditions would never be placed on a student who used guidance or medical services. She noted in the letter to Levy that two other students were dissuaded from enrolling in the same LYFE program after being informed of this unlawful condition.
The NYCLU first contacted School’s Chancellor Levy about this type of discrimination in August 2000 after conducting interviews with dozens of pregnant and parenting girls. Many of these students said that school officials sabotaged their efforts to stay in school, or pushed them out. Sometimes they were told they could only attend “P” schools. “P” schools may offer emotionally supportive environments for pregnant students but too often lack the course work and resources to meet their educational needs. In December 2000, the NYCLU gave Levy the results of a telephone survey that found some schools unlawfully refuse to allow pregnant students to enroll. In May 2001, NYCLU lawyers met with representatives of the Board and proposed numerous specific steps to sensitize school personnel to the needs and rights of pregnant and parenting students and to bring the school system into compliance with the law. So far, not a single proposal has been implemented.
According to Department of Health statistics, approximately four thousand New York City girls age seventeen and under have babies each year.