Editor's Note: This is an opinion piece that originally ran on another Patch site. It is in no way a news article nor is it or its content endorsed by Patch.
Hope for ALL Students?
EmpowerED Georgia’s Myths piece caused quite a stir. We received e-mails from parents who had children that had been “kicked out” or “screened out” of charter schools. We received e-mails that insisted that charter schools are public schools and that charter schools do not have the authority to kick out or screen out kids.
EmpowerED Georgia started looking into the contracts, handbooks, and application processes of charter schools that are operating in Georgia. We came across a lot of eyebrow-raising practices from both locally authorized and state authorized charter schools. These practices have largely gone unreported from media outlets and have been largely ignored from charter school/amendment proponents. We will be highlighting these practices and the need for reform in this and future pieces.
Pregnant Students Need Not Apply
From its research, EmpowerED Georgia found one Georgia charter school that prohibits pregnant students from being entered into the charter’s lottery or from attending the charter school.
According to the charter school’s handbook:
“No student who is or has been pregnant may attend [school’s name]. No student who fathers or has fathered a child may attend [school’s name].”
This practice should not be one that debates the morality of teen pregnancy, but should focus on whether a school that is receiving public funding should be allowed to keep out certain students.
Other questions come into mind. How is pregnancy proven (if the student is early on in their pregnancy)? How is “fathering of a child” proven? Does the school require suspected students to take pregnancy or DNA tests?
Recently, a school in Louisiana got into trouble for how they handled the pregnancy issue. Click here for the article.
Charter proponents often tout flexibility from regulations and innovation as key strengths of charter schools, but denying pregnant students admittance should not be an allowable flexibility and ignoring the needs of certain students is not being innovative.
One response that EmpowerED Georgia received from its Myths piece was that traditional public schools can “kick out” students too, so we decided to look at this particular charter’s traditional school counterpart.
According to the local traditional school’s handbook:
Pregnant students should advise school personnel of their condition as soon as they discover they are pregnant. It may be beneficial to contact the Assistant Principal/Social Worker to explore options.
Pregnant students may receive Homebound instruction only if their pregnancy requires as absence of more than ten (10) consecutive days due to confirmed medical complications. Pregnant students must have a doctor's certification requesting Homebound instruction. All Homebound requests are handled in Social Worker's office.
Expectant mothers and fathers are encouraged to attend school support groups and enroll in parenting classes.
Notice how the local traditional public school is actually attempting to not only address the academic challenges associated with teenage pregnancy, but to help those students through a particularly challenging point in their lives. The charter spends two sentences addressing the challenge, whereas, the local traditional schools spends an entire paragraph addressing the challenge and supporting the student in whatever way they can (urging student to contact Social Workers, prepare for absences, and participate in parenting classes/support groups).
To be fair, EmpowerED Georgia only found one charter school that targeted pregnant students, but we found many with very strict attendance policies. The real issue is not how many charters are engaged in the practice of prohibiting pregnant students, but that any charter would be allowed to do so while receiving public funds.
Proponents claim that the charter issue is about putting the needs of students first, but reforms must be put into place that ensures that the needs of all students are addressed. On this, proponents continue to be silent.