Pregnant students could get protection from discrimination

Public schools may soon have to provide lactation rooms for students and make other modifications to support students who get pregnant before earning their high school diploma.

In new proposed regulations for Title IX, which began 50 years ago with equality in sports, pregnant students and employees would be specifically protected.

“The proposed regulations would strengthen requirements that schools provide reasonable modifications for pregnant students, reasonable break time for pregnant employees, and lactation space,” the proposal reads.

It would apply at all public schools, but only at private schools that accept federal funding. Some private schools expel pregnant students, ban them from walking at graduation or describe them as a bad example to others. But it’s not just a private school battle: A New York University student said she was unable to get accommodations when she was pregnant this spring.

Pregnant young women used to feel similarly ostracized at public high schools and middle schools. But in recent years, some public school officials have tried to change that, and Title IX has helped even before the proposed specific regulations about lactation rooms and other accommodations. Pregnancy was, in general, always protected because the law protects against discrimination based on gender.

Babies at graduation

Schenectady encourages students to bring their children to school events so that the student can attend. Children have come to the prom walk-in and graduation with their student parents; this year, at least three children posed with their student parents at the prom walk-in.

While students are on maternity leave, the school provides home tutoring for six to eight weeks. At the high school, all students can make confidential appointments at the on-site Hometown Health office to get medical care. The school also has a partnership with Planned Parenthood, which offers programs.

The schools don’t have lactation rooms, even for teachers. And so far, no student has wanted one, said social worker Tymesia Nabors.

“We’d find a place to find that privacy,” she said. “I often give up my office for half an hour for someone (a staff member) to pump. We can work things out.”

One of the big issues is finding day care so students can go to school.

There’s no day care at the high school, though some private day cares are within walking distance, Nabors said.

“There has been discussion in the past about having a day care in the building. We don’t have the room,” she said.

That lack makes it hard for some students to participate in after-school activities or get extra help.

“(One student) has to leave immediately after school to pick her baby up. She can’t stay after if she needs extra help,” Nabors said.

Every pregnant student she has worked with has graduated, she added. There are usually about seven or eight students parenting while attending Schenectady High School, she estimated.

Shenendehowa created a policy to support pregnant students in 2007, with the goal of ensuring those students still had access to education. Each student can receive tutoring at home, a modified schedule for in-person school, a mix of both or any other schedule that allows them to learn. The policy also encourages students to stay in school for as long as possible before giving birth, and get homebound education when they’re unable to come to school.

“We do not discriminate against any student, period, and will not do so due to pregnancy,” said spokeswoman Lindsay Valenti.

New rules

 If the new regulations go into effect – a process that may take more than a year – every public school would have to comply with specific accommodations.

“Until now there weren’t any real protections for them,” said Michael Ginsberg, the managing partner of Pattison, Sampson, Ginsberg & Griffin in Troy. The law firm has developed and implemented Title IX policies since the law passed, 50 years ago, and Ginsberg is a certified Title IX investigator.

Every president usually formulates new regulations for Title IX, from greater protection for LGBTQ students to rules for college disciplinary hearings regarding sexual assault. Ginsberg called it a “pendulum” swinging back and forth, sometimes to the frustration of officials trying to keep up.

But he sees the regulations around pregnancy as more permanent than the back-and-forth rules on transgender students and sexual assault hearings.

“Something like that might be more difficult to roll back than how a college or university has to handle a certain (disciplinary) hearing,” he said.


The proposed policy has caught teachers’ attention because it calls for “reasonable break time” for employees.

In New York, employers have been required since 2007 to provide unpaid lactation time. Many states have similar laws. But teachers continue to report that in practice, that time depends on whether there are aides to help in the classroom, supportive administration and an unused space in the school.

A lactation room could resolve some of the issues, but space is at a premium in most schools. Some local teachers said they have pumped in closets.

Teachers have created a series of social media videos on the topic, showing the various encounters – hilarious or creepy – that they’ve had as they try to express milk in various locations. One shows people ignoring or questioning a sign that explains why the room is unavailable. Others detail awkward conversations with students about why the teacher needs privacy in her classroom at lunchtime.

Still, the New York State United Teachers said that state laws, like the 2019 law that specified that lactation is a “pregnancy-related condition,” have helped the union any time a school administration objected to the time or space needed for lactation.