Students’ Right to Parent

By Alyssa Weston 

Youngstown State University’s Title IX division is responsible for ensuring the University complies and investigates concerns regarding Title IX, including pregnant and parenting students.

According to the YSU Title IX page, Title IX is designed to insure that no person is discriminated against on the basis of sex in a educational program or activity setting which receives federal financial assistance.

Kelly Beers is getting acquainted with her job as the Director of Title IX, a brand new position on campus.

Beers said she makes sure the university looks at policies, practices and protocols to ensure everyone has equal access to education, programs and resources.

Student pregnancies are covered under Title IX, including time off a student might need after the pregnancy if there are any complications with the pregnancy or the birth and if the mother is pumping breast milk.

“It covers not only pregnancy, but if a women were to become pregnant and chose to have an abortion, that’s covered as well because it’s clearly a sex-based thing,” she said.

If a women who is a student at YSU finds out she is pregnant, she cannot be forced out of any class or program simply because she is pregnant.

Beers said there has to be a conversation about the specific courses the student is enrolled in, the program and any concerns about the time off the women might need.

Photo by J Harvard Feldhouse/The Jambar

She said she has to look at how pregnancy will impact the classes and discuss if incompletes are an option or if the student can complete the course during winter break.

“The same thing would be for a chemistry class. If a women is pregnant and she shows up to her chemistry class and the professor says, ‘You are pregnant, you can’t be in here, there’s chemicals, it’s dangerous.’ They can’t do that,” she said.

Beers said it’s a woman’s choice to be in a class like chemistry because its her body.

The pregnant student can be asked to speak to a medical professional and get clearance to be in a lab, but only if the professor has the same requirement for any other student with any medical condition.

Although Title IX does not currently have many resources, Beers said a part of her new role is looking into what the campus needs that title IX touches, including resources and connections for pregnant and parenting students.

“If we want [students] to have the opportunity to stay at Youngstown, then they need to know what’s in the area so we need to help connect them to those things,” she said.

Pregnant and parenting students do not have different legal rights than other students on a campus setting.

YSU suggests parents not to bring children into the classroom.

“The problem with that is it’s a slippery slope. We can’t really put a restriction on [children in the classroom] and capture all the things that could be problematic … so that’s why we suggest that faculty not do it,” Beers said.

Beers said YSU doesn’t want inconsistency among faculty.

“Because then it becomes, ‘Well, that faculty member is nice and that faculty member is mean because they let me and they didn’t’,” she said.

With regards to absences, Beers said the attendance policies for classes still apply because they’re in place per the facilities’ decision because they know how much content the students need to be there for in order to reasonably pass the class.

“It is difficult. There are certainly ways we want to support [parenting students], but we also have to be realistic that every class has certain requirements that we can’t overstep our boundaries,” she said. “Basically we cannot overrule faculty in their own classroom. Faculty have full governance over there classes.”

Some situations where parenting and pregnant students sometimes get a little more flexibility is during a pregnancy and childbirth.

Beers said students who miss class for several weeks due to a high risk pregnancy or complications during childbirth and have more doctor appointments than an average pregnancy can get additional protection under Title IX and the American Disabilities Act (ADA).

“I don’t think most people know that I exist yet and honestly understand that pregnancy is covered by Title IX,” she said.  

Beers said that when most people hear Title IX they think of sexual assault because that’s the big thing people know that Title IX does.

“They don’t know understand that there’s all this other stuff that we also help with,” she said.

Beers said she thinks pregnant or parenting students who are unsure if they should continue their education because of there circumstance should come talk to her to understand what their options are.

“I hope in the future to talk to many students who are in this position so I can help them in whatever ways possible,” she said.

Gina McGranahan, assistant director of the center for student progress and disability services, said YSU Disability Services can provide aid for pregnant students depending on what they need.

“Most students who are pregnant can’t fit into the desks, so I can have a table and chair put there,” she said.

If a student needs to leave the class early to do something pertaining to a high risk pregnancy, such as check blood sugar, McGranahan can help them get the extra time to do that.

YSU Disability Services can aid after childbirth if there are complications.

“Everything we do here is need based whether somebody is pregnant or somebody has any other disability,” McGranahan said.

As far as disability services is concerned, McGranahan said there are no plans to extend the services offered to pregnant and parenting students.

“We do what is needed now, so there’s really nowhere else to expand to,” she said.

Matt Dermotta, a senior general studies major, is working towards his degree, while raising his four daughters.

Dermotta said although he doesn’t usually tell his professors about his children, it hasn’t hindered his college experience.

In Dermotta’s experience, he said he hasn’t noticed faculty favoring student mothers over student fathers in the classroom.

“I think it’s pretty fair, but each person is different and has their own things going on,” he said.

Dermotta said he thinks the university has an open door policy when dealing with parenting students, but a setback is the lack of information put out by the university to help guide parents to the resources that could help them.

As a U.S. military veteran, Dermotta uses the Veterans Resource Center and suggested that YSU have something similar for parenting students.

Hannah Harris, a junior forensic science major, became pregnant in her second semester as a YSU student and had her child in September of  2017.

“The only thing was it was difficult for me to go to class a few times because of morning sickness. I would have to run out of the room and come back in,” she said.

Harris lives in Weller House in what is their first year of family housing. She said it is a step in the right direction, but a lot of improvements need to be made because it isn’t a family-only house.

She said she was shocked how understanding her professors were and how everybody was willing to work around her circumstances.

“I had issues with one professor so I ended up dropping his class,” she said.

Harris said she didn’t reach out to the university for help and decided to take the class another time.

When Harris’ son was born, she took him to class the whole semester and her professors allowed it, but she stopped once he was past infancy. Now he goes to a daycare.

After only missing two weeks of class after childbirth, Harris said she got back into the swing of things fast.

 

Although Harris had a positive experience with the faculty, she said one of the universities’ weaknesses is the lack of resources for her child and the design of the university, including tight doorways and inconveniently placed elevators.

“It’s hard to get around with a stroller, and I know that’s not just an issue for me, but also for people who have a handicap,” she said.

Harris said other pregnant students should reach out and let everyone know what’s going on.“Your professors will hopefully be as understanding as mine. So don’t be afraid to ask for help,” she said.

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