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ACLU: school lawyer looking at pregnancy policy

MONROE — A northeast Louisiana charter school that prevents pregnant female students from attending school and can force them to take a pregnancy test to continue attending school if administrators "suspect" a pregnancy has drawn the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union.

ACLU state executive director Marjorie Esman says that violates laws against sex discrimination. It has threatened to sue unless Delhi Charter School changes the policy. The school's lawyer wrote Tuesday, Esman says, saying the policy is being reviewed. She says she takes that as a sign that the school is taking the threat of legal action seriously.

The "Student Pregnancy Policy" takes up four paragraphs in the school's 216-page policy manual. It says pregnant students must study at home or leave the school. It says the requirements are part of "an environment in which all students will learn and exhibit acceptable character traits," governing language, gesture, physical actions and written words.

"The school reserves the right to require any female student to take a pregnancy test to confirm whether or not the suspect student is in fact pregnant," the policy reads.

The policy also allows the school to refer the student to a physician of its choice. "If the test indicates that the student is pregnant, the student will not be permitted to attend classes on the campus of Delhi Charter School."

Pregnant students wishing to continue attending Delhi Charter will be required to enroll in a home study course while pregnant.

"They're punishing girls for making the choice to have the child," Esman said Monday.

Students who refuse to take a pregnancy test are "treated as a pregnant student and will be offered home study opportunities."

The letter from the ACLU contends that the policy violates Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 because it excludes students from educational programs and activities based on sex and the equal protection clause because it treats female students differently than male students and relies on impermissible sexual stereotypes.

Esman said the policy is a pretext for sexual discrimination.

Caroline Roemer Shirley, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Charter Schools — of which Delhi Charter is a member — said that all public schools, including charter schools, must abide by federal law.

"Perhaps the school was not aware of the protections under Title IX (of the Education Amendments of 1972)," she said. "I am feeling a bit frustrated that maybe not all of our schools are aware of these compliance issues. I hope they will remedy this or explain why they think they have the ability to do this."

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