Teen Pregnancy Study: Students Need Better School Support. Really?!

Kali Gonzalez, reads to her daughter Kiah, 2 at their home in St. Augustine, Florida. (Photo/Associated Press, 9/10/2012)

I normally don’t read the Education Section on many mainstream news sites because the articles are anemic and pro forma at best. Unfortunately, the ‘education news beat’ has taken a major hit as newspapers have cut staff and costs to save money.

Yet, I found myself perusing the education news section on the Huffington Post website. The article “Teen Pregnancy Study: Students Need Better School Support” (11/26/2012) caught my eye, because the topic of ‘teen pregnancy’ and ‘education’ doesn’t pop up much in the news cycle. Also because the article ludicrously states the obvious though a good portion of America’s public education system would beg to differ. Below is an excerpt from the article discussing a teen mom’s plight and how schools have dealt with the issue of teen moms:

When 15-year-old Kali Gonzalez became pregnant, the honors student considered transferring to an alternative school. She worried teachers would harass her for missing class because of doctor’s appointments and morning sickness. A guidance counselor urged Gonzalez not to, saying that could lower her standards. Instead, her counselor set up a meeting with teachers at her St. Augustine high school to confirm she could make up missed assignments, eat in class and use the restroom whenever she needed. Gonzalez, who is now 18, kept an A-average while pregnant. She capitalized on an online school program for parenting students so she could stay home and take care of her baby during her junior year. She returned to school her senior year and graduated with honors in May. But Gonzalez is a rare example of success among pregnant students. Schools across the country are divided over how to handle them, with some schools kicking them out or penalizing students for pregnancy-related absences. And many schools say they can’t afford costly support programs, including tutoring, child care and transportation for teens who may live just a few miles from school but still too far to walk while pregnant or with a small child.

Though we live in a more enlightened age, the stigma of teen pregnancy (one of the scarlet letters of the teen set) still exists. Parents/soon-to-be grandparents are pissed that their daughter is pregnant or that that their son ‘knocked someone up.’ Pregnant girls feel shocked and ashamed and soon-to-be teen fathers are stunned, depressed or angry.

Schools, parents, friends, doctors, non-profits, other family members, etc. can preach abstinence and safe-sex until they’re blue-in-the-face. It doesn’t change the fact that teens are still having babies.

Ostracizing teen moms to special schools for ‘girls in their condition’ is not the answer. Also, schools need to stop equating the ‘acknowledgement of teen pregnancy/assisting pregnant teens’ with the idea that the school is somehow promoting teen sex. Providing school support systems to help pregnant teens and teen moms stay in school will help them finish high school and maybe pursue post-high school education. Most importantly, having their peers see these pregnant girls and their babies’ fathers in their classrooms will cause some teens to think twice about having unprotected sex. Nothing like seeing living, breathing examples of how your life would change by having a baby.

I’m not saying that schools should serve as some type of defacto parent, though some already do whether parents like it or not. However, schools need to stop putting their heads in the sand when it comes to teen pregnancy and other student issues (i.e., racism, bullying, sexuality, sexism, etc.) that they’re not comfortable dealing with because these issues will not go away. In the end, schools are supposed to educate all students and help them graduate, even pregnant girls and teen moms.

Maternity Leave For Working Women? In the U.S. That Does Not Compute

Pregnant woman at work. (Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock, May 16, 2011)

As I was reading the umpteenth article on the political “War on Women” I came across an article discussing the perils of maternity leave on The Nation‘s website.

In “Too Often, A New Baby Brings Big Debt” the author, Bryce Covert criticizes, rightfully, the United States’ woeful policy on parental leave and worker protection in the advent of a pregnancy, all of which can result in financial hardship for working moms. Interestingly, was the author’s mention of Sonya Underwood, a hospital worker, to make her case.

Here is Covert describing what happened to Sonya Underwood:

When it comes to taking time off for a new baby, the best-laid plans often go awry. Sonya Underwood had worked at a hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, for eleven years before getting pregnant with her third son. As a single mother, she prepared to cover the income she would lose during her unpaid leave, hoarding paid time off and taking out disability insurance. And then real life intervened. Doctors told Underwood that she had an incompetent cervix and put her on bed rest three weeks ahead of schedule. Then her son arrived at twenty-six weeks. The twelve weeks of leave she is guaranteed by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) soon ran out, as did the insurance, even though her son remained in the NICU. “I didn’t have any money left,” Underwood said. So she went back to work and visited him at the hospital every day. But once her son came home, Underwood’s situation quickly became untenable. Daycare centers wouldn’t take a medically fragile baby. Her human resources department informed her that her only choice was more unpaid leave. “It didn’t help out my situation because I still had rent due, my car note due, utilities, everything else,” she said. After she exhausted that leave, she was let go from her job, lost her car and couldn’t qualify for unemployment insurance because of her role as her son’s caretaker. The only places left to turn were Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and a loan she already knew would be difficult to pay back. “I’m a victim of FMLA because it didn’t help my family,” she concluded.

Though I felt empathy for Underwood’s situation, one question stuck in my head throughout the article. Why did Underwood, a single mother of two, decide to have a third child? Though Covert mentioned Underwood had been working at the hospital for eleven years before deciding to have a third child and that she had “prepared” for the pregnancy – my initial thought did not go away. Some would argue that her decision to have a third child led to her economic hardship.

I’m not stating that Covert should have selected a more appealing individual (i.e. married, first time becoming pregnant, white-collar worker, etc.) to augment her argument. Maybe Covert didn’t want to use a perfect mom example, because then the reader wouldn’t feel the perfect mom’s pain or understand her hardship. There is a strong possibility that the reader would equate the perfect mom’s despair with just being whiny, then she would be told to “suck it up.”

Nevertheless, Covert’s argument about the unfairness of parental leave for working new mothers is inadvertently undermined and obscured by her use of Ms. Underwood as an example.

Yet, whatever readers may feel about Underwood and/or her situation shouldn’t dilute the fact U.S. policy concerning parental leave for working new mothers and parents is abysmal. Pregnant women only have the option of hoarding their vacation/sick leave in order to have paid maternity leave with the option of using FMLA (which is unpaid) to extend their maternity leave. This is ridiculous when, according to the Center For Economic Policy and Research’s “Parental Leave Policy in 21 Countries” 2008 report countries such as Austria, Canada, Cuba, France and the U.K. offering 18-52 weeks of paid maternity leave and sometimes paid paternity leave.

Not every potential mom is married, has a dream pregnancy where she didn’t get sick and has a child born completely healthy while working for a family-friendly employer, which fortunately was the case for me. Complications–medical, financial and otherwise–happen, yet America’s parental leave policy doesn’t take such matters into consideration for moms. In some instances, pregnant women have to deal with on-the-job pregnancy discrimination which can result in decreased work hours, job loss, failure to hire or promote and forced unpaid leave as reported in 2011 by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Also, The fear of debt has caused many potential moms/parents to delay having children and limit the number of children they would like to have. Why more Americans haven’t opted out of the parent route is truly a testament of nature over logic.

The fact is, hoping that the latest “War On Women” round will push the federal government to resolve this issue (along with other concerns that primarily affect women) is the same as expecting to win the Mega Millions lottery.

In other words women, don’t hold your breath or you might end up like Sonya Underwood.