Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

Lifting Voices: Towards Equal Education for Pregnant and Parenting Students in New York City

Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

Lifting Voices: Towards Equal Education for Pregnant and Parenting Students in New York City

Article excerpt

We all love to learn, but we feel disrespected. (1)

PROLOGUE

East 128th Street in Harlem, New York City, is empty, but for a middle-aged man walking along the sidewalk. Outside of the old school building, there is no sign, no central entrance--there is only a ramp leading to a side door of dull gray metal. The man on the sidewalk calls out, "What are you looking for? Looking for the school for pregnant girls?" Hands clasped, he draws an exaggerated circle in front of his middle, and then points to the gray door. In faded paint, small stenciled letters read, "P-911--School for Continued Education."

Inside, hallways are papered in children's finger paintings and student election campaign flyers. In breaks between classes, students stop by a nursery filled with toys and books to visit their babies. Here there are no advanced placement classes and there is no school band, yet for the students, all of whom are either expectant or new mothers, this "pregnancy school" is the only way to continue their educations.

Some students chose to come to P-911 because it offers them basic academic instruction and social services in a small, nurturing environment. (2) Others, after being compelled to leave their mainstream schools, had to choose between coming to P-911 or dropping out of school completely. (3) And then, there is Emily, (4) who was forced to leave her mainstream school, but refuses to accept the alternative that P-911 offers.

For Emily, that man on the sidewalk is one of the reasons she refuses to attend P-911. She is embarrassed by the thought that once she walks up that ramp and through that grey door, her pregnancy is all other people will see. She does not want to be labeled by her pregnancy--there is so much more to her than that. But how can she express and explore all the other facets of her identity when, to that man and everyone else who sees her at P-911, she is just another "pregnant girl"?

The other reason why Emily refuses to attend P-911 is because she wants to be challenged to learn and grow academically. Her goal is to continue progressing toward the high school diploma she was striving for before she became pregnant. But all of the courses offered at P-911 are in basic subjects that she has already completed.

Because no regular school will admit her, and she will not enroll in a pregnancy school, Emily is left out of school completely. Deprived of her education, Emily worries that she is losing her hopes of a happy future, for herself and for her child.

INTRODUCTION

Throughout New York City there are many girls, like Emily, who are denied access to public education because they are pregnant or have children. (5) Pregnant and parenting students are routinely subjected to hostile and punitive treatment in mainstream public schools, (6) resulting in their educational disenfranchisement. (7) In a recent survey of pregnant and parenting teenagers in the New York City foster care system, forty percent stated that they dropped out of school while pregnant, (8) and twenty-two percent stated that they were "forced to change schools" due to their pregnancies. (9)

This discrimination against pregnant and parenting students persists despite the legal protection provided by Title IX of the Education Amendments, enacted by Congress in 1972, ("Title IX") which guarantees educational equality for all students, regardless of pregnancy or parental status. (10) Decades of empirical evidence demonstrating the critical link between educational attainment and positive outcomes for teenage mothers and their children have also failed to compel mainstream schools to accommodate pregnant and parenting students. (11) Instead, pregnant and parenting students are either driven out of the education system entirely, (12) or pushed into separate pregnancy school programs. (13)

P-911 is one of New York City's five pregnancy schools, (14) or "P-Schools," (15) dedicated exclusively to serving pregnant and parenting students. …

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