Written by Lara S. Kaufmann for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Pregnant belly with henna

Title IX prohibits schools from discriminating against pregnant women.

Imagine you’re an honors student at a community college. You’re doing great: you’ve got a merit-based scholarship and you’re enjoying your classes. You’re also pregnant and excited to welcome the new addition to your family.

Being the conscientious student that you are, you approach your professors as soon as classes start, tell them that you’re due near the end of the semester, and ask that if you miss any tests due to a pregnancy-related absence you be allowed to make them up. You even offer to provide a doctor’s note. Three of your professors congratulate you, and tell you that of course this won’t be a problem.

But one of your professors says she will not excuse any such leave or allow work missed to be made up, even if it’s a labor and delivery emergency. She will not reconsider this policy “just because you find it inconvenient.” You’ll just have to deal with it or drop the class.

Sheesh, okay, fine, this professor is being unreasonable. But surely when you appeal to the administration — including the dean — they’ll intervene and tell the professor to reverse her decision, right?

In fact, though, the dean tells you that each professor gets to set his or her own leave and make-up rules, regardless of what those rules are. And if you don’t like it, you’ll have to drop the class.

You feel defeated, so you do it. You drop the class. And because dropping the class disqualified you from your scholarship program, you withdraw from that too.

This all could have been prevented if the school had complied with Title IX, the civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in education.

Title IX prohibits schools from penalizing pregnant students for medically-necessary absences. Pregnant students should have the opportunity to make up any work they miss. It’s that easy.

Unfortunately, this is a true story. It’s the story of our client, Stephanie, a student at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, part of the City University of New York system. But it is also the story of many pregnant students in schools, colleges, and universities around the country.

That’s why this morning we filed an administrative complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, urging it to investigate whether the college violated Title IX. (Spoiler alert! We think it did).

It’s absolutely essential that schools take their Title IX obligations seriously. Because it’s hard enough to juggle school and life and get a college degree so you can make it in today’s economy and support your family. The last thing you need is your school discriminating against you because you’re pregnant.

For more information on Title IX and how the law protects pregnant and parenting students, visit http://www.nwlc.org/pregnantandparentingstudents

Photo by henna lion under Creative Commons license