Bill to assist pregnant and parenting students discussed

The Education Committee heard testimony Jan. 30 on a bill that would accommodate pregnant and parenting students as they complete their education.

<a href='http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist07' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of Sen. Tony Vargas'>Sen. Tony Vargas</a>
Sen. Tony Vargas

LB428, introduced by Omaha Sen. Tony Vargas, would require school districts to adopt a written policy providing standards and guidelines to accommodate pregnant and parenting students. The bill would direct the state Department of Education to develop and distribute a model policy to districts that they could implement.

Vargas said approximately 70 percent of young women who have a child leave school and do not return to complete their education until years later, if at all. He said inconsistent policies on pregnant and parenting students across the state’s school districts cause disparities in student success.

“LB428 seeks to address this disparity and make all Nebraska schools a welcoming and more inclusive place for pregnant and parenting students,” he said.

At a minimum, the policy would require districts to provide for student absences due to pregnancy and eliminate requirements for physician approval to return to school or participate in extracurricular activities after pregnancy. They also would be required to provide alternative methods for keeping pregnant or parenting students in the classroom by allowing them to complete coursework at home or by providing online classes or visits from tutors.

The model policy would require districts to ensure that students have private, hygienic spaces to express breast milk during the school day. Finally, if schools do not have an in-school child care facility, the proposed policy would identify local child care providers or designate staff to assist student parents in placing their children in child care facilities that collaborate with the school.

The department’s model policy would be developed and distributed to districts by Dec. 1, 2017, and individual districts would be required to adopt a policy by May 1, 2018. The policies would be implemented at the start of the 2018-2019 school year.

In addition to creating a model policy, the department also would offer training for teachers, counselors and administrators on school districts’ adopted policies.

Anabelle Garcia of the Nebraska Children’s Home Society testified in support of the bill. Garcia, who teaches parenting skills to pregnant teens and teen mothers, became pregnant at 16. She said she struggled to finish high school because her school did not offer maternity leave or provide adequate tutoring services.

Garcia used a nurse’s office bathroom to pump breast milk, which she kept in her backpack because there was no other place to store it. She eventually had to stop breastfeeding her son so that she could keep up with classes.

“It was between choosing to make milk or choosing to pass my classes,” she said. “So I chose my classes over my milk.”

Christine Henningsen of the UNL Center on Children, Families and the Law also testified in support of the bill. She said many girls are at risk of entering the juvenile court system due to truancy filings. Young mothers cannot get a doctor’s note to excuse them for absences related to pregnancy and parenting such as prenatal visits, time to bond with a child, child illness or problems with child care, Henningsen said.

“It is not surprising that many young women, as a result of these policies, have chosen to drop out of school — not because they do not want to receive an education but because the system makes it impossible for them to succeed,” she said. “We must take these steps to support these young women and remove obstacles that make transition to motherhood a barrier to continuing their education.”

No one spoke in opposition to the bill and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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