The Widener Civil Law Clinic, in conjunction with the ACLU of PA and the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, filed suit today on behalf of a sixteen year old mother against the Central Dauphin School District in suburban Harrisburg. According to the suit, the school has charged the student with truancy on multiple occasions when she has missed school to tend to her son when he is sick. She and her mother have paid fines, and the student has served a variety of in-school punishments. The Magisterial District Judge threatened to revoke custody of her son if she does not pay the fines and continues to miss school. (Mind you, she’s missed some days of school to care of her sick kid.)
We contend that the school has violated her rights under the 14th Amendment (Equal Protection), Title IX, and the Equal Rights Amendment of the PA Constitution.
As a silly sidenote, under Pennsylvania’s Compulsory School Attendance Law, “farming” and “agriculture activities” are excused absences. Monica Cliatt, supervising attorney at the Widener Civil Law Clinic, said at today’s press conference, “You can take care of your cow but you can’t take care of your kid.”
Litigation is like war- it’s the last option. We tried our best to work with the school. Calls and letters went unanswered. According to Cliatt, the best answer we got from one administrator was, “We only talk in court.” That’s unfortunate.
To be honest, I usually find students’ rights cases to be boring. Don’t get me wrong. They’re important. The Constitution covers people of all ages, not just those over 18. I just find situations where a kid fights over his/her right to wear a t-shirt to be very ho-hum.
But this touches a nerve. Here is a young woman who is in a tough spot. She got herself into a life-altering situation but is now doing everything she can to make the best of it. She is responsibly tending to her child in the present moment and responsibly tending to her education- she’s an honor student- with plans to go to college, which will give her and her son a brighter future.
So many teen moms neglect their children or their education or both. And don’t get me started about the teen fathers.
Despite our client’s best efforts, the school goes after her for truancy and levies detentions, suspensions, etc. An MDJ even has the nerve to threaten to take the child away.
This is government run amok. And that’s why, in the words of one local columnist, the ACLU is “an essential institution in a free society.”
Andy in Harrisburg