Barefoot and pregnant in public school

New York has closed its pregnancy schools, but they remain nationwide.

Published May 24, 2007 10:30PM (EDT)

We've all heard of glass ceilings and marble ceilings and other obdurate materials women have been known to smack their virtual heads on when trying to achieve some as-yet-unattained measure of equality, but I was surprised to hear about what might be called a "quilted ceiling" keeping certain teen girls the equivalent of barefoot and pregnant in our country's public schools.

Today the New York Times reported on the closing of New York City's four pregnancy schools -- or P-schools for short. In a statement that pretty much sums up the problems, superintendent Cami Anderson (whose district oversees the Program for Pregnant Students) told the Times: "It's a separate but unequal program." As Monica Stamm noted in 1998 in the Columbia Law Review, P-schools are an example of publicly funded single-sex schools that have existed all along and not for the benefit of their students.

On the one hand, word that P-schools are failing to thrive across the nation in part because of the decrease in teen pregnancy rates and a healthy unwillingness to segregate pregnant girls was welcome news. But in the wake of a Department of Education study that concluded pregnancy schools across the country offered girls a second-class education that "treated them more like mothers-to-be than curious students," one has to wonder how the hell they exist at all.

Marked by deplorable test scores, spotty attendance and poor facilities, the schools were created in the 1960s when teen pregnancy still carried a formidable stigma. At the time, P-schools were an improvement over the previous protocol, which put pregnant girls on "medical suspension," then prohibited them from returning to their original schools after they gave birth. But now what's the excuse? According to the Times, they are a perfect way for guidance counselors to weed out the underperforming kids to keep the almighty test scores up. Call it no child (but those with child) left behind.

By Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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