State Senate Education Committee implements Norman Sen. Boren’s study request on support for pregnant students

Oklahoma City – On October 13, the Senate Education Committee learned what accommodations are provided to pregnant students and young families in Oklahoma’s high schools, colleges and CareerTech system.

The study was requested by Sen. Mary Boren, D-Norman. According to a legislative press release, Boren “wants to ensure young mothers and fathers are given every opportunity to finish their education and see how the Legislature may be able to further help these young parents achieve their education goals.”

Boren said, “While there are laws in place to protect pregnant students in public education, both in common and higher ed, there are limited protections in private schools. I’ve heard disturbing stories of young parents dropping out of school, lost scholarships and unearned degrees.”

She continued, “I want to shed some light on this issue and ensure that all Oklahoma schools, whether private or public, accommodate these young mothers and fathers. Regardless at what level, all schools have an obligation to help these young families get their diplomas, certifications or degrees by whatever means possible.”

Dr. Debbie Blanke, senior vice chancellor for academic and student affairs for the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, gave an overview of legal protections provided to pregnant students under Title IX, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA).

Under Title IX, students cannot be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. This includes the right to take medically necessary leave and to be free of harassment or other discrimination because of pregnancy-related conditions. Any rules concerning parental, family, or marital status must be applied equally based on sex.

Heather HendricksUniversity of Oklahoma assistant general counsel with the Office of Legal Counsel, and Lindy Roberts-Ivy, OU senior associate athletics director/sports administration shared accommodations provided by the University of Oklahoma. The pair emphasized that the greatest protections for pregnant students and young families are the Title IX regulations and the NCAA guidelines for student-athletes.

Boren clarified through questioning the OU presenters that when universities seek waivers from Title IX pregnancy protections, pregnant and parenting students are not guaranteed accommodations, which adds barriers for students during a vulnerable time.

Executive Director of Diversity and Cultural Affairs, Dr. Monique Bruner, shared about Rose State College’s Single Mothers Academic Resource Team (SMART) program.

Created in 2007 with the State Regents and funded by the Women’s Foundation of Oklahoma (WFO), SMART grants help institutions provide services to meet the unique needs of single mothers and fathers so they can complete their education. Since 2017, Rose State faculty have volunteered nearly SMART 3,900 hours, helping more than 3,000 single parents continue their education and nearly 1,700 complete their degrees. The college’s highly successful program has a 79% average retention rate.

The committee also learned about another innovative program being offered by Norman Public Schools (NPS) to expecting or parenting teenage students called Baby Steps.

Emily Deardorf, the Baby Steps teacher and district resource coordinator, explained that the program is a community partnership that was started in 1993 by the Junior League of Norman, Crossroads Youth and Family Services (CYFS), the Center for Children & Families, and the school district.

Baby Steps has helped more than 150 students graduate and obtain the skills and resources they need to continue reaching their goals beyond high school. NPS provides transportation, parent mentoring, a 6-week allowance for post-partum absences and a homebound instructor, and guidance on pursuing the correct educational path forward whether traditional, alternative, online, or getting their GED. CYFS runs an Early Head Start for the students’ children and provides further developmentally appropriate education and screening/referrals as needed for the children.

Through the Baby Steps program, young parents can also get access to housing, counseling services, healthcare, diapers, formula, and other food items.“

This study shared the good news of how Oklahoma public schools and universities have helped turn hundreds of unexpected pregnancies into welcomed and healthy pregnancies by accommodating students,” Boren said. “I’ll keep working with my colleagues to encourage all public and private schools at all levels to offer this kind of hope to their pregnant and parenting students.”