Title IX Victories for Pregnant and LGBT Students
June was a big month for Title IX, the federal law requiring equal opportunity in education for all students, from kindergarten through graduate school, regardless of sex. Not only did we mark the law’s 41st anniversary, but we also celebrated two recent developments that reinforce the law’s importance to students.
A few weeks ago, the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights released an official guidance letter about the rights of pregnant and parenting students. As the letter put it,
To help improve the high school and college graduation rates of young parents, we must support pregnant and parenting students so that they can stay in school and complete their education and thereby build better lives for themselves and their children.
The letter told schools that pregnant students should be treated the same as other students and that they shouldn’t have to provide medical certification in order to remain in school. Any options for pregnant students that involve alternative schools or programs must be comparable to the student’s “regular” school and completely voluntary for the student. Additionally, when students return to school, they must be allowed to return to the same academic and extracurricular activities as before they left.
This clarification is much-needed and applies to postsecondary education as well (where pregnant women face additional challenges). Although pregnant and parenting students have always been protected under Title IX, the letter and accompanying pamphlet tell schools the concrete steps they must take to support these students. In the clearest possible terms, the Department of Education has told schools that they may not deny mothers and fathers the educational opportunities provided to other students.
In another development, the Department of Education recently announced that it will require schools to disclose more information about students’ civil rights. These questions, added to the department’s Civil Rights Data Collection survey, will ask schools to report whether they have Title IX coordinators and how many students were bullied because of their sexual orientation. This data collection is a critical perspective on schools’ compliance with Title IX, as well as the bullying and harassment that students — LGBT or not — too often endure. This is a big step and one that, for several years, AAUW has advocated for. All children deserve to be safe and valued at school.
Title IX was designed to be a strong and comprehensive measure that would attack all forms of sex discrimination in education and, in so doing, open doors previously closed to women and girls. While Title IX has indeed succeeded in creating some additional opportunities in the classroom and on the athletic field, inequities and barriers still remain. The department’s letter and additional civil rights questions are significant steps that will help protect the civil rights of all students.