Let the Pregnant Teen Grads Walk

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How we treat pregnant teens reveals more about us than them.

A recent story in The New York Times reveals a common quandary faced by Christian high schools and colleges: what to do with pregnant students. Last year, 18-year-old Maddi Runkles, a straight-A student, athlete, and student council president at a private Christian school in Boonsboro, Maryland, became pregnant. Maddi briefly thought of having an abortion but then resolutely decided to keep the baby. Not long after she discovered her pregnancy, she told her mother. Then she told her father who, at the time, was head of the school board. She also publicly announced it to her high school peers at Heritage Academy.

In response, school officials—minus her father, who recused himself from the deliberations—decided to suspend her for two days, remove her as the student council president, and bar her from “walking” during graduation. Maddi admits she knew she would face disciplinary action from the school “because I did break the school code.” But although she and her parents support the first two penalties, they strongly disagree with the decision to forbid her from participating in graduation.

The dispute reflects a difficult tension between the principles of a pro-life position—lauding the decision to keep an unborn baby—and the principles of sexual ethics and right conduct. “You have these two competing values,” Brad Wilcox, a sociologist at the University of Virginia and director of the National Marriage Project, told The New York Times. “On the one hand, the school is seeking to maintain some kind of commitment to what has classically been called chastity—or today might be called abstinence. At the same time, there’s an expectation in many Christian circles that we are doing all that we can to honor life.”

Like many Christian high schools (and universities), Heritage Academy forbids its students from engaging in premarital sex as a matter of policy. However, disciplinary actions are decided at the discretion of school officials and vary widely: Should students be suspended or expelled? If so, for how long, and should re-admittance be an option? If not, what penalties should students face?

In response to the public fallout, Heritage principal David R. Hobbs stated that “Maddi is being disciplined, not because she’s pregnant, but because she was immoral.” However Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life of America who is working closely with the Runkles family, strongly disagrees with Hobbs’s assertion. As one piece of evidence, she cites another comment he made stating that, “to have a girl who is seven months pregnant walking at graduation would be easily misunderstood, bringing even more pressure onto Maddi.”

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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Marlena Graves