Empowering teen mothers, transforming lives
By: Julia Brown , Participant, Teen Success, Inc. Visalia and Rosa Merida, Teen Success, Inc. Advocate, Visalia
“I deserve the same maternity leave as an adult with a job, because school is my job,” said 17-year-old Julia Brown in her testimony to the California State Assembly in April, 2018.
Julia, a young student and mom from Visalia, California, testified in front of the Assembly in favor of measure AB 2289, the Young Parents Right to Education Act. Her son, Jordan, was only 6 weeks old at the time.
“My teachers and admin at Sequoia High knew I was pregnant, and at around 8 months I began having sharp pains in my uterus while at school. As the pain got worse, I finally went to the office to tell the administration what I was feeling. It was so intense, that the principal decided to call the ambulance. Once I was at the hospital, I found out I was experiencing early contractions. My doctor officially put me on bed rest, and wrote a note for my school that I needed to be excused for maternity leave. But Sequoia High wouldn’t accept it.”
“The administration at [Sequoia High School] told me: ‘We don’t do maternity leave, so you have to come to school every day till your water breaks.’”
“The school district eventually got me to enroll at Visalia Charter Independent Studies (VCIS). When I finally did give birth, VCIS gave me one week of maternity leave and expected me to report back to campus the next week to get a new packet of work.”
“People in the courtroom were surprised,” says Rosa Merida, Julia’s Teen Success, Inc. Advocate, “they couldn’t believe this is really happening.”
Under Title IX, schools must excuse absences due to pregnancy or any related conditions for as long as the student’s doctor says it is necessary for them to be absent. Enforcement of these rules doesn’t always happen, sadly, to the detriment of young parents’ families.
The Young Parents Right to Education Act, AB 2289, is a bill that would establish a statewide family and sick leave policy for young parents in grades 6-12 to opt into, in order to support their academic success and be able to bond with and care for their children. It provides a minimum of 8 weeks of protected parental leave for pregnant and parenting students to have prior to the delivery of their baby, if needed and up to a year after the child's birth. Schools would be required to develop an independent study plan to help students stay on track to graduate and prepare for higher education.
If this measure was to be passed, it could increase the number of young parents who graduate high school (currently only 38% of teen mothers graduate high school) and decrease dropout rates, especially among young mothers. It would allow young parents to take their time to bond with their newborn and recover from labor. Their absences during pregnancy and baby doctor visits would be excused by their schools and prevent the administration from taking punitive measures against the student.
“I believe that even young parents deserve the same rights, like an adult. I believe that young parents deserve to have that special time with their babies. It’s not fair to feel stressed out about school or be rushed to go back to school. And I don’t believe it is fair to be treated differently after giving birth. Young parents deserve to be treated equally.” Julia says.
“It’s not okay how the schools treated me because they see a young mom.”
“AB 2289 is important. By this bill passing, it will motivate young parents to finish high school and look forward to graduating instead of being punished.”
“It’s amazing to see one of my members share her story. I’m very proud of her for using her voice to make a difference for other moms in the future,” says Rosa.
Julia is fighting for change now with the passing of AB 2289, so young mothers, like herself, don’t have to choose between graduating high school and the opportunity to bond with their children.