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Survey of New York City High School Admissions Practices Regarding Pregnant and Parenting Teens

During the summer 2000, student interns at the New York Civil Liberties Union conducted a survey to learn about New York City high school practices regarding the admission of pregnant and parenting teens. Identifying themselves as pregnant teenagers in good academic standing, the interns called 28 high school admissions offices to see whether or not the schools would admit them. The calls were conducted primarily during two periods of time, in July while summer school was in session and again at the end of August during registration. Some schools were contacted twice or even three times, and different staff members were spoken to on each call. Schools that could not be reached during July and August were called again early in September. Responses varied greatly even in an individual school, depending on who answered the school phone.

Three of the high schools surveyed, Port Richmond, Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) and Washington Irving, all contacted in July, would not allow pregnant students to enroll, even when the student expressed a clear desire to go to that particular school. The interns told the schools, “I would really like to go to [school name], it’s the closest to my house and it would just be so much easier for me.” Washington Irving said, “This is not the school for you…Pregnant schools would be more conducive to your needs…nobody tries to help you, especially here.” At MLK the response to any question about admission was, “go call zoning for a 911 school,” and Port Richmond would only accept the student once she had the child. Port Richmond suggested that the student attend P.S. 40, a Pregnant and Parenting School, for a semester, and then to transfer to Richmond after she had given birth.

Taft High School would allow a pregnant student to enroll but “when it gets bad, we’ll transfer you to Martha Nielson, a special school, or you can go right away.” Taft later defined “bad” as when one is “eight months” pregnant. There was no room for discussion as the Taft guidance counselor abruptly ended the conversation.

Seven other schools, which did not turn the pregnant student away, offered the option of a pregnant and parenting teen school with varying levels of pressure. Evander, Kennedy, Curtis and South Shore all suggested that a pregnant teenager might have an easier time in a pregnant school but did not force the issue. South Shore asked during the late August call, “Does it bother you that you are going to be pregnant? Does it bother you that you are going to show in front of the other high school students?” However, as long as the student was comfortable the school would allow her to enroll. Evander stressed that missing school days would be a problem. New Dorp high school informed the student about schools for pregnant and parenting teens in Staten Island, explaining that there would be “difficulty (at New Dorp)… you will need to miss days of school…teachers can’t take your pregnancy into consideration so your grades will go down.” The student was offered the option to enroll for the first term and then transfer out. At Curtis, the woman who answered appeared supportive, but said that if “you prefer to go to Curtis (rather than a Pregnant and Parenting School) that’s fine. There are many students who walk around with bellies.”

Morris and John Jay strongly pressured pregnant students to go to a school for pregnant and parenting teens instead of enrolling with them. During the July call, Morris stated that the lack of a “support system at Morris” would mean that the student “[wouldn’t] make it through December.” When pressed though, Morris would admit the pregnant student. In August, there was no pressure from Morris not to go to the school, but there were multiple comments on how difficult attendance would be: “It’s not going to help you graduate,” “It’s going to be hard to deliver in the middle of the term,” “It will be harder on you than it will be on the school.” The person who answered the phone referred to parenting teens as a “freaky nuisance,” though he did acknowledge that, “we have many girls walking around pregnant” and that “our goal is to get you through with credits.” The guidance counselor in John Jay High School was very brusque, and while she stressed that “it’s your legal right to stay, we can’t discriminate,” she followed that comment with, “do you want to be here or do you want to go to a school for you?”

At Seward Park the results differed. When one student called in July, the guidance counselor kept insisting that the pregnant teen call the Office of High School Admissions to find a school for pregnant and parenting teens in the area. However when the pregnant teenager persisted, he replied, “Fine then you can go, but you should make an intelligent decision.” He then catalogued pregnancy-related problems such as “morning sickness…doctor delivery…many absences,” that would make a stay in Seward Park difficult. Another student called twice, first in July and again in August. During the July call the school was helpful, informing the student of LYFE programs in other schools, but offering to enroll her. On the second call the school again informed the student of her options and said she could enroll, telling her that if she was able to manage her schoolwork during the first semester, she should be able to stay for the second semester, even after giving birth.

Six schools–Wadleigh, Brandeis, Forest Hills, Far Rockaway, Kennedy and Sheepshead Bay–expressed no problem with a pregnant student enrolling in their schools. Sheepshead Bay was positive and during the August call, offered to create a shortened schedule that would allow the student more time with her child once he/she was born. Far Rockaway also did not try to prevent the pregnant student’s enrollment, but did question the pregnancy itself, “What would you do that for? Are you ready to take on the responsibility?”

Some of the schools surveyed offer daycare or LYFE services. They include: Springfield Gardens, John Jay, Far Rockaway, Morris, Port Richmond, Wadleigh, Washington Irving. Curtis students can use Port Richmond’s programs, and students at Seward Park use Washington Irving’s LYFE program. Both John Jay and Port Richmond’s LYFE programs are currently full and have waiting lists. At Port Richmond babies need to be three months old to participate in LYFE program. Morris’ LYFE program is not open to newborns.

In sum, three schools refused to even consider enrolling pregnant students in good academic standing, while eight others actively discouraged them. This state of affairs is incompatible with equal educational opportunity.

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