Page 30


Margaret Contreras and her two children Rachel Proctor to re-enroll, even though Contreras is currently pregnant for the third time. Because the district has already accepted her re-enrollment, a favorable ruling will mean a monetary awardthe complaint asks for $5,000and possibly access to services. Although Contreras has been attending classes since January, her sister Celia, who is now 20, is unable to return to school and support her three children at the same time. The financial and childcare challenges facing the sisters demonstrate why many districts deem pregnancy programs a necessity. When teens become pregnant, they soon find themselves swamped with doctors’ appointments and the health woes of pregnancy. Once they begin parenting, the cycle of diapers and feedings, of expensive day care and legal battles for child support can be enough to overload even the most motivated students. For this reason the Title IX lawsuit aims to go beyond keeping the district from turning away pregnant students to encouraging them to provide for their special needs. “Pregnant teens who are able to stay in school need certain services in order to be treated comparably to their peers,” argues Gunn. “We want the school to put in a permanent pregnancy plan that includes things like homebound educational services, parenting classes, and adequate counseling because these girls are at risk of dropping out.” She adds that the Texas Education Code already requires guidance counselors to help develop special programs to counter the threat of students dropping out, though the code does not specifically mention pregnancy. The State ofTexas does provide districts two funding options for pregnancy programs. Districts can apply for state Pregnancy, Education, and Parenting grams, which must include child care, transportation, parenting classes, and career counseling. PEP provides up to $100,000 the first year, and half that amount for every subsequent year the program is continued. About 300 of the state’s 1,050 school districts \(1,300 if received these funds. However, because the money is limited and grant-holders are funded until they discontinue the program, new PEP grants are rare. Districts can also obtain state pregwhich allot extra money for each preg nant student attending classes. \(According to Texas Education Agency records, Luling ISD accepted $3,532 in such funds the 1999-00 school year, when Contreras claims she was pushed out. School officials refused to comaccepting these funds for a student, the district agrees to provide her postpartum home-based instruction, and prenatal home instruction if it is medically necessary. Optional services include transportation, child care, counseling, and health services. In the Luling case, the school’s unwillingness to provide prenatal homebound education is offered as part of the discrimination claim. However, PEP program coordinator Crawford says that such services are only offered for rare cases of medical emergency, not if the student is just feeling ill and doesn’t want to come to school. There is a difference between discrimination, which is illegal, and choosing not to provide services above and beyond those received by other students, she cautions. Still, some districts have realized it’s advantageous to offer help to pregnant students. “In urban areas, we’re seeing a lot of these programs put into place because we’re so impacted by the problem [of teen pregnancy],” says Nina Jackson, counselor for the Fort Worth Independent School District, which offers one of the most comprehensive programs in the state. “Here in Fort Worth we’re doing everything it takes to keep those kids in school. But in rural areas there’s great inconsistency, and schools [do] push kids out once they get pregnant, even though it’s totally illegal.” Fort Worth is a model for school dis tricts like Luling, Gunn believes. The district serves around 1,000 identified pregnant or parenting students each year out of a student body of about 80,000. At a special school for such stu dents, as well as in regular classes, five case managers help with everything from intensive counseling to a “baby continued on page 15 7/19/02 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11