My senior year of college, two of my roommates and I watched Teen Mom constantly. I liked to pretend I wasn’t watching it, but the conversation usually went something like this:
Becka (standing in doorway): “Oh jeez, guys. You’re watching this?”
Arielle: “Yes. Absolutely.”
[10 minutes later]
Rachel: “…Do you want to sit down?”
Becka (still standing in doorway): “…Yes. FARRAH’S CRYING FACE IS CRAZY.”
When you watch the show, the difficulties of teen parents and pregnant students become painfully clear. Recently, I was re-watching the first season on Netflix Instant, and it clicked – Wow. The Pregnant and Parenting Student Access to Education Act would REALLY help these girls.
Title IX already affords a number of protections to pregnant and parenting students. This law requires that schools receiving federal funds not discriminate against students on the basis of sex, which includes pregnancy and related conditions like childbirth, pregnancy termination, and recovery. This prohibition against discrimination comes in a number of forms – for example, students must not be forced to attend a different program or school than their peers, must be given the opportunity to make up missed work for pregnancy-related absences, must be treated the same as if they had a temporary disability, and may not be excluded from sports or extracurricular activities.
The Pregnant and Parenting Student Access to Education Act (PPSAE) is designed to go beyond nondiscrimination by giving students the tools they need to succeed. It would enable school districts to – among other things – create graduation plans for pregnant and parenting students; provide academic support, parenting and life skills classes, strategies to prevent future unplanned pregnancies, and legal aid services; help pregnant and parenting students gain access to affordable child care; and revise school policies and practices to remove discouraging barriers. Pretty great, huh?
In just the TV pilot, I could spot a number of ways that increased enforcement of Title IX and passing the PPSAE would help these girls tremendously.
Farrah gave up cheerleading and her friends because the school’s administration made a huge deal out of her pregnancy and her friends shunned her for it. Counter-productively, this will make it harder for Farrah to stay engaged in school. If Title IX had been enforced at her high school, Farrah would have been able to stick with cheerleading, despite officials' discomfort. Title IX also includes sexual-harassment protections – and pregnancy harassment is sexual harassment. Officials at Farrah’s school could have supported an educational climate where Farrah felt welcome instead of being barraged with offensive treatment from her peers. The PPSAE Act also would give school districts funds to hire a liaison to oversee the education of pregnant and parenting students and help them access services.
Catelynn has put her child up for an open adoption and is looking for better birth-control methods, but lies to her doctor about her sexual history. The PPSAE Act would give schools the means to help students with pregnancy-prevention strategies and mental-health services, which could have given Catelynn the knowledge she needed to be more truthful to her doctor.
Amber dropped out of high school and feels alone and in need of help. Had Title IX been better enforced in Amber’s school, she would have felt supported by the school administration and had more options open to her. And had the PPSAE Act been in place, Amber’s school could have connected her with mental-health counseling, and the school would have had additional resources to retain students and encourage Amber to continue her education.
If one little bill can do all this change in just a 45-minute episode of a television show, imagine what it would do if it actually became law.