What happens with pregnant students?

What’s a school district to do about a pregnant student whose family keeps her in school until her due date?
That was the situation one North Fork school district faced in recent weeks. And administrators in the other districts have acknowledged they’ve struggled with the question in the past.
A parent raised the issue at a recent school board meeting, asking why a “visibly pregnant seventh-grader” was allowed to remain in school until she went into labor.
“You’re forcing a lot of parents to have a conversation with their children they’re not ready to have,” he said. The superintendent and board members did their best to cut off the discussion, pointing out that they didn’t want to stigmatize the student, but by then tongues had been wagging in the community anyway.
Another parent sent an e-mail to The Suffolk Times right after the board meeting, describing herself as an “Outraged Mother” and asking, “Why was she allowed to go to school in that condition? This is not what we pay our school taxes for.”
There’s no legal mechanism for barring pregnant students from school, superintendents in Greenport, Southold and Mattituck all said. They offer home schooling opportunities to pregnant students, they said, but can’t mandate it.
“Pregnant students shall be permitted to continue in school in all instances when continued attendance has the sanction of the expectant mother’s physician,” said Greenport Superintendent Michael Comanda, quoting his district’s policy.
Through the guidance department and school social worker, Greenport notifies teachers and the school nurse and works with students and parents to assist with medical and social services, he said.
After a pregnant student gives birth and returns to school, the social worker helps the student with the challenges of returning to school, Mr. Comanda said.
In Southold, a student under 17 is mandated to continue her education, whether in the classroom or through home schooling, prior to giving birth. If she is under 17 after she gives birth, she is mandated to return to school.
“The student will be provided with a home instruction program if her physician certifies that there is a medical condition incident to or other than pregnancy that warrants home instruction,” the Southold policy states.
The district makes every effort not to disrupt a student’s education any more than necessary, Superintendent David Gamberg said.
At Mattituck, when school officials hear about a pregnant student, they will give her 24 hours to inform her parents if she hasn’t already done so, according to guidance coordinator Brian Lynch. If the girl fails to speak with her parents, school officials will intervene.
“We try to do what’s in the best interest of the student,” Mr. Lynch said.
The student will be excused from physical education classes and the school nurse will be involved in assisting the student, he said.
He recalled the case of a senior who continued in school until just short of the graduation ceremony. School officials worked with her to enable her to stay in class until just before she gave birth, he said.
“Communication is the important piece,” Mr. Lynch said. “It’s a difficult balancing act.”
As for the home schooling option, it’s really up to the parents, he said. In the case of the recent pregnancy, the girl had two years invested in a BOCES program and the school wanted her to finish the program as long as her health permitted her to do so, he said.
What are North Fork students learning in health classes about sex education?
Programs focus on abstinence, the administrators said. Students are taught about parts of the body, body changes, male and female reproductive systems, social interactions and sexually transmitted diseases, especially HIV and AIDS, Mattituck health educator Greg Wormuth said.
Programs at other schools are similar. High school students hear a passing mention of contraception, but no specific information is shared about how it works.
What the educators want students to learn is that abstinence is the only sure way to avoid pregnancy and/or sexually transmitted diseases,  Mr. Wormuth said.
In Southold, the approach to sex education and the policy about allowing a pregnant student to remain in school is to be responsive to the sensitivities of the community, Mr. Gamberg said. He pointed out that district officials are always open to hearing from the public about suggested changes in policy, as long as they conform with state mandates.
School boards, from time to time, examine their sex education programs and adjust them to meet state mandates and general philosophies in the community about what should or should not be taught, the educators agreed.
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