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Teen Pregnancy and Dropping Out

 Although any form of discrimination against pregnant teen girls is illegal today, it still occurs and contributes to the high dropout rates in American schools today.

There have been dozens of studies showing that when teenaged girls get pregnant in the U.S. today, most of them drop out of school. If they do drop out of high school, they are often resigning themselves to a life of economic insecurity. The numbers also show that discrimination against these girls by school administrators, teachers, counselors and fellow students is a big contributing factor to their overall dropout rates, and that discrimination also has the potential to raise serious civil rights concerns.

Even though there have been recent news reports in some areas showing that the overall teen pregnancy rates are declining, the successes have been localized and show that there continues to be disparity between the pregnancy rates of students in higher-income white communities compared to those in lower-income communities of color. Data from the Centers for Disease Control shows that in some of the more affluent areas the birth rate for girls age 15 to 17 is 1.6 per 1000, while in less affluent areas it averages nearly 16 times that at 27 per 1000. The stark disparity shows a trend that has been in effect for several decades in that the pregnancy rates among White and Asian students has steadily decreased over the years, while the pregnancy rates for American Indian/Alaskan Native, Hispanic and Black students have been unchanged or dropped only slightly. Some studies have even suggested that girls in Hispanic communities become pregnant at the ratio of 1 in 2, while the national average remains about 1 in 4.

These pregnancy rates obviously have a major role in the disparity in high school graduation rates between these same groups of teen girls because pregnancy is still the number one reason girls drop out of school today in the U.S.  The numbers also show that 70% of the teenage girls who do give birth, leave school, and most of those that leave due to pregnancy report that they would have stayed in school if they had received a greater amount of support from the adults at their schools. This backs ups research that shows that when schools make an effort to try to better support pregnant girls with their educations, they can have a significant impact in lowering the overall drop-out rates.

Although any form of discrimination against these girls by school administrators, teachers, counselors and fellow students is illegal under Title IX, the federal law that bans sex discrimination in public schools, the discrimination is still widespread today. There are many forms of discrimination that can be enough to push pregnant teens out of school.  Schools refusing to give excused absences for pregnancy related doctor’s appointments, teachers refusing to allow make-up work, counselors coercing students into substandard alternative schools, excluding them from school activities based on morality codes, disparaging, discouraging and disapproving comments from adults and students, all of these actions are technically illegal under Title IX.

Yet they all still occur and contribute to the high dropout rates in American schools today. Ending these discriminatory practices is a matter of equal treatment for all students, and is also a way to have a major positive impact on the life prospects for everyone involved. It will require more work within the education system to increase the awareness of the legal rights of pregnant students and to help promote the best practices by all school districts in the nation today.

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