By  Jane Weinkrantz


Me: “I feel as though I was hit by a truck.”

Dr. B “In essence, you were.”

That was the discussion I had with my obstetrician the day after I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy  9 lb. 11 oz. son. Of course, my health insurance didn’t care about the truck analogy and within 24 hours I was out of the hospital and back home again, luckily with several months of maternity leave ahead of me and plenty of devoted friends and family to offer their  support and care for me while baby and I got to know each other.

            Unfortunately, the young women of East High School in Denver, Colorado, are not as lucky as I was. Without a Board of Ed. policy on maternity leave in place, pregnant teens are expected to return to class the day after giving birth. To do otherwise means accumulating “unexcused absences,” you know the ones you get for cutting class, sleeping late or otherwise avoiding your academic obligations.

            According to The Rocky Mountain News, Nicole Head, a graduate student working with pregnant students at East High School repeatedly called the Denver Public Schools office, seeking an explanation of the maternity policy.You can’t have maternity leave,” Head says she was told, “If you have your baby on Wednesday, you better be back on Thursday.”

            Whoever made that statement has never experienced the post-partum trifecta of bleeding, hemorrhoids and engorged breasts. What better time to take a social studies test, do a biology lab or play volleyball? Appalled at the school’s insensitivity, Head and another counselor, Celia Gruzalski,  took the issue to the Board of Education, some of  whom were shocked.

            Michelle Moss, a board member, told The Denver Post “It’s critical that these young women have a chance to bond with their babies…Maybe we do need a policy. Clearly, as a district, we have to look at what is going on with our young women. We’ve got to look at the birth-control issues and teen pregnancy and how we best help them deal with it and graduate.”

            High school graduation frequently eludes teen-age mothers, only a third of whom manage to receive their diplomas. Likewise, only 1.5% of  these women earn their college degrees by age 30. Shouldn’t schools be doing everything they can to keep these at-risk students in school?

            Dr. Sarah Grope, a pediatrician, stated, “To just assume that two days after having a baby they can go back to school is ridiculous at best. During that time, they should be able to do their schoolwork and give time to bond with their children.”

            It’s hard to know what to make of the district’s  indifference to its teen mother’s needs.  Is it simply an oversight---district spokesman Alex Sanchez told the Rocky Mountain News, “The administration and certainly also the board would agree that if …a teen mother got an unexcused absence because they didn’t go to school two days after giving birth, that should not happen”--- or is it a way to punish “bad girls?” The Rocky Mountain News  reported that one teacher at East High refused to accept doctors’ notes that excused a student from class for prenatal care. Celia Gruzalski, who worked with pregnant students at East, said, “There were a lot of battles for some of these girls because they miss a lot of school and different teachers had different feelings about whether to excuse their absences or not.”

Clearly, the sentiment that a girl who “got herself in trouble” shouldn’t expect any help or sympathy is alive and well. Online responses to news articles about the proposed maternity leaves include comments like “Keep your legs closed!” and “I guess these kids are just too stupid or too lazy to use birth control.”

According to the National Campaign to Prevent Unplanned Teen Pregnancy, Colorado ranks 28th in preventing teen pregnancies with 12,130 in 2000. ( Vermont , with only 970, ranked first.) Roughly, 55 in 1000 Denver teen-age girls will become pregnant.  At East High School currently, there are 11 pregnant students and two new mothers. However, it is also important to note that one third of Colorado school districts teach “abstinence only” sex education classes without discussing birth control or safe sex options. Pregnancy is one result of these omissions.

            As of now,  thanks to the advocacy of counselors Head and Gruzalski, DPS officials are working towards a policy that will give teen moms up to six weeks of maternity leave. On February 5, the Denver Public Schools Board of Education will consider a proposal to provide birth control in school. Stay tuned.


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