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Recognizing Pregnancy Absences

December 11, 2013

A chiropractic university in Missouri has agreed to count pregnancy- and childbirth-related absences as excused absences, four months after the National Women’s Law Center filed a complaint that its attendance policy violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

As part of the settlement, which was announced Tuesday, Logan University, formerly known as Logan College of Chiropractic, will work with each student on a plan to complete missed work, conduct mandatory Title IX training for faculty members and include the updated policy on its website and in its student handbook, according to the law center.

The complaint was filed to the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights on behalf of a student, Brandi Kostal, who was not allowed to make up work she missed after her emergency Caesarean delivery. Kostal returned to her classes 11 days after her delivery, despite a letter from her doctor that said she would be “incapacitated for recovery” from her delivery date in March until the beginning of May. 

The college agreed to remove the failing grades from Kostal’s transcript and she will complete the two courses at no cost. The college will also reimburse her tuition payments for the period when she was pregnant and recovering from childbirth, according to the women's law center.

“Logan University has long been a champion of equality in education.  We are pleased to have resolved the disagreement with this student in a way that we believe will further enhance our policies and opportunities for Logan students,” a college spokeswoman, Jennifer Reed, said in a statement. “Our new policies and procedures will help us continue to meet evolving federal requirements.”

The new policy does not require a student to complete missed work during her absence unless the student chooses to do so, Reed said. Logan may offer students alternatives to completing missed work, including allowing them to retake a course at no additional expense. 

Kostal, a student in the college’s chiropractic program who expects to finish her master’s and doctoral degree programs this spring, said she’s most excited about the effect the policy will have on future students. The new policy will "allow them to maintain their status in school, continue their studies and allow them to graduate on time," she said.

Logan University is one of many colleges and universities with policies that discriminate against pregnant or parenting students, said Lara Kaufmann, senior counsel and director of education policy for at-risk students at the National Women's Law Center. She said the center hears weekly of students who are discriminated against because colleges are unwilling to make accommodations for students’ pregnancy. For example, some technical training programs may require students to lift weights that a pregnant student cannot, and a college may not appropriately accommodate the student’s condition. Sometimes, students are encouraged to drop out of a program and reapply after their baby is born, she said. The idea that parenting and education cannot coexist is “antiquated, but still out there,” she said. 

Pregnancy discrimination is a “hidden issue” of higher education, said Mary Ann Mason, a professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley and author of a book on how childbearing and rearing affects men’s and women’s careers in higher education.

Title IX is most closely associated with issues of athletics and sexual assault, but more attention is beginning to be paid to pregnancy discrimination, she said.

In May, the City University of New York settled a discrimination complaint filed by the women's law center on behalf of a pregnant student who was told she would not be able to make up tests or assignments missed because of her pregnancy. Administrators suggested the student drop the class as she was due before the semester ended. After the complaint was settled, the university added pregnancy as a protected class under its anti-discrimination policy. 

The U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights said in a "Dear Colleague" letter in June that colleges have special responsibilities to support young parents and pregnant students under Title IX, including excusing student’s absences because of pregnancy or childbirth for as long as medically necessary. 

 

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