Title IX: Pregnancy & Parenting Protections for Students

Protecting Pregnant and Parenting Students

Posted on 3 December 2015 |

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Consider this scenario:title ix pregnancy parenting

A student is pregnant and misses assignments and tests due to doctor’s appointments, pregnancy complications, delivery, breastfeeding and so on. Her professor tells her she won’t be allowed to make up anything she misses. The student appeals to school administration, who backs the professor and suggests the student drop the class.

A lawsuit is filed on behalf of the student, saying it violates Title IX on the basis of sexual discrimination.

Who do you think should win the case?

This isn’t just an imaginary scenario; it’s a summary of a case filed by the National Women’s Law Center in New York on behalf of a pregnant student. In this case, the school agreed not only to settle out of court in favor of the student, but also to adopt sweeping new pregnancy-related policies and training measures across its entire system.

This case had little precedent within the higher education system. Faculty and administrators have a lot to think about on top of all of the rules and regulations they need to be aware of, so often times people aren’t totally clear what’s expected under the law.

Pregnancy and Educational Achievement: An Enduring Challenge

Although the Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 has been on the books for decades, education institutions have often overlooked its pregnancy protections. The specific provisions in the law received renewed attention in 2012 when the Obama administration took new steps to increase the participation of women in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Although pregnancy can have a major impact on a women’s career path in any field, the pressures and expectations are especially high in academia such that childbirth is the main reason female scientists leave their studies behind.2 A Dear Colleague letter in 2013 also pressed the issue, noting some of the reasoning behind the greater focus on pregnancy-related discrimination, including:

  • The high correlation between becoming a parent and dropping out of high school
  • The below average educational attainment levels of young parents, which result in higher rates of under- and unemployment3

The ultimate goal of the increased focus on pregnancy provisions in Title IX has been to increase graduation rates of young parents by, “supporting pregnant and parenting students so that they can stay in school and complete their education, and thereby build better lives for themselves and their children.”4

Preventing Pregnancy Discrimination

According to Title IX, schools receiving Federal Funds have an obligation to protect pregnant or parenting students from discrimination or harassment.Here are brief summaries of three key fundamentals that must be taken into consideration:5

1) Full participation must be an option

 Pregnant students are allowed to participate in any class or extracurricular activity that they choose to participate in. And they aren’t required to provide a doctor’s note for any activity, unless a doctor’s note is required for “all students who have a physical or emotional condition requiring treatment by a doctor.”

2) No punishment for excused absences and medical leave

Students may be excused for any medically necessary absences related to pregnancy or childbirth. When a leave of absence is over, instructors must make accommodations for students to complete any missed work, including class participation.

3) Protection from harassment and discrimination

Students are to be protected from harassment related to pregnancy that interferes with school work and participation and have access to a grievance process when they feel they have been harassed or discriminated against. Ideally, school policies should also stipulate that pregnancy-related sexual discrimination is prohibited.    

Stay Compliant With All Aspects of Title IX

Protection for pregnancy and parenting is just one of the many ways Title IX helps to eliminate sex discrimination. To ensure your school’s faculty and staff are up-to-date on all the protections, check out our interactive Title IX training course.


1Press Release: City University of New York Settles Pregnant Student’s Discrimination Complaint Initiated by NWLC, National Women’s Law Center, May 1, 2013.

2 Mary Ann Mason, Title IX and Pregnancy Discrimination: Who Knew?, Tools For Change, March 26, 2014.

3, 4 Dear Colleague letter, United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, June 25, 2013.

5 Pregnant or Parenting? Title IX Protects You From Discrimination At School, U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights.

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