DATELINE TEXAS ast month, media from The LNewlfork Times to ESPN made much of the 30th anniversary of the enactment of Title IX, the landmark education legislation which outlawed gender discrimination by schools that receive federal funds, opening doors for female athletesand raising the ire of some male ones. The National Wiestling Coaches Association chose to mark the occasion by suing the Education Department for the way it enforces the statute. Although the coaches lost, the Bush Administration responded to the case by launching a Commission on Oppotiunity in Athletics, which Title IX supporters believe is a prelude to weakening the law While the reverse-discrimination controversy makes headlines throughout the country, a different Title IX battle is being fought in Luling, 45 miles southeast of Austin. A littleknown section of the law specifically forbids discrimination against students on the basis of “pregnancy, childbirth, false pregnancy, termination of pregnancy, or recovery therefrom.” Two Luling women say that their school banned them because they were pregnantand that other students have suffered a similar fate. If their classaction lawsuit against the Luling Independent School District is successful, or a settlement is reached before the case is heard in August, its impact could extend beyond an affirmation that pushing pregnant girls out of school is illegal. Advocates hope it will set a new standard that equitable treatment of pregnant students means schools must provide health and coun seling needs. Margaret Contreras, one of the two women suing the school district, is a petite 19-year-old who lives with her mother and two children just off U.S. 90, a strip of gas stations and fast food restaurants running parallel to the old Southern Pacific Railroad lirie. On the other side of the tracks is the historic downtown built during Luling’s oil boom in the 1920s, when the population exploded to a then-bustling 5,000. The town hasn’t grown, or bustled much, since. Contreras wears bib overalls and perches on a hard-backed chair in the converted garage that serves as both her Mother’s bedroom and a sitting room for guests. As an air conditioner wheezes futilely in the corner, she explains that when she first became pregnant at age 16, like most in her situation, she was scared. Money was tight. She had never been a particularly strong student. Worse, two years earlier, school administrators had forced her older sister Celia Leon out of school when she became pregnant. So, Contreras waited until her fifth month before telling anyone at Luling High. Despite fears of a repeat of her sister’s experience, she had heard that some schools offer services for pregnant students. She approached the principal hoping for encouraging words about home illstruction, maybe parenting classes or prenatal check-ups. Instead, he told her that not only did the school not offer pregnancy services, but that she could no longer attend regular classes. To get her diploma, she says, the principal gave her no other option but to take a GED class at night, so her fellow students wouldn’t see her swelling belly “They said it was inappropriate, that I would be a bad influence on the other students,” she says. “I just kept thinking, ‘why are you being so cruel?’ In a state where abstinence-only is the rule for sex education, it’s not surprising that when schools deny the existence of teenage sex, some will also try to deny its results.With no statewide requirements for addressing pregnant students’ needs, districts’ reactions range from offering comprehensive pregnancy programs to quietly showing such students the door. “There are certainly districts where pregnancy is still punished,” says Linda Crawford, state contact for the Pregnancy, Education, and Parenting many districts’ pregnancy services. “Every year we get calls from parents and students saying their district just tells them, ‘you’ve made your bed and now you lie in it, because we’re not going to help you:” Tipped off about the situation in Luling, Texas Civil Rights Project attorney Andrea Gunn agreed to represent the two sisters. Alleging that the case goes further than just the sisters, Gunn also applied for class certification. The district court judge who heard the case in the fall of 2001 initially denied class certification on the grounds that the two young women were no longer students. The judge relented once the women re-enrolled, but the district appealed on the grounds that Gunn had failed to procure additional plaintiffs. Gunn argues that this [failure] is the fault of the district, which she says should be monitoring and keeping records on pregnant students which would make locating them possible. Contacted by the Observer, the district refused to comment. The response it filed to Contreras’ and Leon’s complaint simply denies all charges. Ironically, the district allowed the sisters De-Schooling in Luling Pregnant Teens Fight to Enforce Title IX BY RACHEL PROCTOR services to meet their special 10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7/19/02
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