Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” Since the passage of Title IX, school officials have been scrambling to ensure a documentable degree of equity between genders in every aspect of public school governance.
With that backdrop, I would like to summarize a conversation I recently had with a doctoral student. This female student was a teen parent who gave birth to her first child while in high school. She is now a principal of a school for students that are either pregnant or caring for their own children while completing the requirements for graduation (often referred to as “mothers school”). Students that attend her school, all of whom are female, choose this alternative setting for a number of reasons: access to free childcare while in school, specific emotional support provided to teen mothers from both the staff and the other students, and a learning environment that validates teen mothers’ adjusted priorities.
However, a majority of those who choose attend alternative schools for teen mothers also choose to loose access to a number of services found at traditional secondary schools. For example, most schools for teen mothers do not provide their students access to advanced curriculum such as honors or advanced placement courses. In addition, those attending mother schools seldom have access to transportation services through the school district.
As I have processed these facts, I have come to the conclusion that teen mothers are being forced to choose between access to an advanced curriculum and childcare. For some teen mothers, there is no choice – childcare will always win out over other factors. The irony, and potential legal pitfall, is that the teen fathers are not being asked to make similar choices. I recall a situation when I taught high school in Utah where two juniors had a relationship that resulted in the female student becoming pregnant. She gave birth over the summer and finished her schooling in an alternative setting her senior year while raising her newborn. The father, on the other hand, was the starting fullback for the football team in the fall and graduated with his peers. The differences in how these two students were treated stemmed exclusively from their gender.
I feel like teen mothers are being excluded from participating in advanced curriculum options based on their gender and this practice appears to violate Title IX. The evidence for the claim of discrimination based on gender lies in the fact that teen fathers are not facing the same difficult choices – childcare versus AP calculus.