Feds Emphasize Legal Protections for Pregnant or Recently Pregnant Students, Employees

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The U.S. Department of Education is reinforcing its message that schools must not discriminate against students or employees based on pregnancy or pregnancy-related conditions, including abortion, outlining details in a new summary of resources for districts about those prohibitions.

The new resource document from the office for civil rights reminds schools about how Title IX, the federal sex discrimination law, applies to pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions. The summary follows the Education Department’s proposed Title IX revisions, released in June, that included clarification on the law’s protection of pregnant women and people experiencing pregnancy-related conditions.

The proposed changes to Title IX had earned over 200,000 public comments by the deadline of Sept. 12, and the department is expected to release final revisions to the law in the coming year. If the revisions remain as written, Title IX will more-explicitly protect students and employees experiencing pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions by clarifying that schools must provide accommodations, including lactation spaces and break times for breastfeeding mothers.

In the document, the department made explicit that schools must not discriminate or exclude students from educational activities based on “pregnancy, childbirth, false pregnancy, termination of pregnancy, or recovery therefrom.” For example, teachers cannot legally refuse to accommodate a student who missed a deadline because of absences related to pregnancy, childbirth, or any other pregnancy-related condition.

The law also requires schools to treat those conditions the same as any temporary disability when it comes to benefits, services, plans, and policies for students and employees.

Schools must also provide leave to students experiencing pregnancy or pregnancy-related conditions for as long as their doctor deems it medically necessary, according to the summary. Pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions are also justification for an employee’s leave of absence without pay for a reasonable period of time, the document says. Schools must allow employees to return to their pre-leave position or a comparable position without reducing their pay or promotional opportunities.

Students, parents, or employees intending to file a complaint about discrimination can do so by contacting their school’s Title IX coordinator, whose information should be displayed prominently on the school’s website. It’s also possible to file a complaint with the department by visiting its website.

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