A 14 year old girl in Pennsylvania joined the ranks of countless teenage mothers; but, instead of throwing her hands up and becoming a leech on society, a stereotypical high school drop-out, or abandoning the child, the girl attempted to continue high school and her part-time job, as well as take responsibility in raising her child. This is quite admirable for a teenager. Now a 16 year old mother of a two year old, the girl maintains dreams of going to college to study Criminal Justice. She is described as an "exceptional student."
The girl's mother is on disability and has four children in total. There is no mention of a father (in either case of the girl or her mother), and one might assume (there are few details on the matter) that the girl's family is not at all well-off, and child care may already be an issue.
There are days when the mother cannot (for one reason or another) or will not (this is unclear) watch the 16 year old's son. There are days when the boy is sick and the girl must take the child to the doctor, and on these days the 16 year old must miss school. This is the rub; the high school is now moving to charge the girl under truancy laws after missing lots of school. It is suggested that the girl is otherwise an "exceptional student" who maintains her grades despite her lack of attendance.
[Under the district] attendance policy, parents are given legal notice of a first truancy offense after three unexcused absences. Additional unexcused days can lead to fines or imprisonment.
However, under Pennsylvania's Compulsory Attendance Law, there is an exception for absences due to mental, physical or "other urgent reasons."
In the School District of Philadelphia, for example, students are allowed to miss only four weeks after giving birth before they must return to classes.
The school district officials do not recognize teen parenting as urgent reasons, and this is undoubtedly within their right. There is a standing policy against truancy, and the girl is clearly violating this policy. I suppose one could say that they are under no obligation to make an exception in this case. There is also mention in one article that the girl has "missed 211 days in the last four school years," which is more than a fair amount of school, and also covers two more years than the girl has had a child. However, I am not so ready to condemn this girl.
They have encouraged the girl to pursue home schooling or switch to a Vo-Tech which has day care. I question, however, the wisdom of taking an exceptional student with lofty college dreams, who is otherwise statistically at-risk for being a drop-out, and encouraging them to leave school or move to vocational training. Certainly the latter option will be better than the former; from the description of the girl's mother having four children and not being able to watch the girl's two year old, I doubt she is in a position to provide an adequate education. Also, apologies to those of you who are home schooled or who provide excellent home school care for your children, my experience with friends who received home schooling and clearly spent more time on whimsical pursuits rather than developing a good foundation in the basics and who treated school as a second-thought to their hobbies (or their parents' busy day), I am not impressed with what home schooling sometimes has to offer (recognizing that there are many exceptions), and certainly do not think it a good solution in this case.
That said, I have conflicting thoughts on this. The girl clearly made a mistake and is paying the unfortunate consequences (sometimes life sucks and you do have to live with the consequences of decisions made in youth), and I am very, very wary of lawsuits in which the ACLU quickly jump on the offensive because they haven't proven themselves to have much in the way of discretion. There are clear, laid-out policies in this school district, and the district is enforcing them; it isn't as if they are making these up as they go to punish this particular girl. However, knowing of a nearly unemployable and now-pregnant high school drop-out who is setting herself up to be a leech of society and quite the stereotype, as I look at these girls side-by-side (admittedly my being more familiar with the one than the other, only knowing about one of the girls what the media portrays of her), I see night and day.
Is it wise to put "the Rules" above the good of a student? If the girl is indeed maintaining exceptional grades in spite of a lack of attendance, is she truly being hurt by her truancy (beyond the obvious missing-out on socialization and learning the lesson of having to sit through unnecessary things sometimes just because you have to) enough to justify threatening to take the child away from an otherwise-responsible teenage mother, and is taking her out of school permanently a better solution? And what does that say about the school district itself if, despite such obstacles in this girls education and her missing so many days, that she can maintain her grades? Are there no Churches or special-interest groups in the District willing to step in and help the girl with child care, and help the girl achieve her goals toward which she has worked fairly hard? What sort of influence will taking the girl out of school have on the child, who is now arguably statistically higher at risk for taking a similar path? And then, if she does continue with her high school education and makes it to college, how she plan to handle child care then?
What are your thoughts? I am still not sure what to think.
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