Harrisburg, PA - The Central Dauphin School District in central Pennsylvania and three of its top officials were sued today in U.S. District Court by the Widener Civil Law Clinic on behalf of a 16-year-old mother who has repeatedly been charged with truancy for child-care-related school absences. The clinic, staffed predominantly by law students, is representing the teen mother, referred to in court papers as A.C., and her mother, with assistance from the American Civil Liberties Union.
"The school district has no policy for teen parents who want to do the right thing by both their educations and their children," said Monica Cliatt, staff attorney at the Widener Civil Law Clinic, who has overseen work on the lawsuit. "It is outrageous to threaten this young woman, who hopes to make a better life for her family through her education, when she needs to exercise her fundamental right to be a parent to her son."
The lawsuit seeks to stop the school district from prosecuting the teen for absences related to her 2-year-old son. It also seeks a court judgment declaring that the young woman has a constitutional right to parent her child and that Title IX specifically prohibits discrimination against parenting students.
A.C. is a 16-year-old student who attends school full time, works part-time at McDonald's and lives at home with her mother and three younger siblings. She gave birth to her son when she was 13. A.C. relies on her own mother for child care while she attends Central Dauphin East High School, but there are times when she must miss class to care for her son. In one instance, she missed school to care for her child when he was ill - and produced a doctor's note to verify her absence. She has also missed school to attend doctor appointments with her child and to cover for her own mother when she cannot provide child care because of personal reasons, responsibilities or commitments on behalf of A.C.'s three siblings.
On multiple occasions the school district has brought truancy charges against A.C. - who was an honor-roll student last year and wants to study criminal justice in college. Once, she was found guilty and fined $348. A.C. was threatened with loss of custody of her son if she did not pay the fine and stop missing school. The decision to file the federal lawsuit was made after A.C. and her mother sought help from the Widener Civil Law Clinic for assistance with her truancy cases.
"Public schools are supposed to give our children - all of our children - a chance to make something of themselves," said Mary Catherine Roper, staff attorney for the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "This young woman needs that more than most and is trying to be both a good parent and a good student. She shouldn't have to choose between her child and her education."
The ACLU of Pennsylvania and the ACLU Women's Rights Project have joined the case as co-counsel and will provide assistance in arguing the teen has experienced a violation of her rights under Title IX.
"This case has national implications and the potential to make new law. The students of Widener Law, with our friends at the ACLU, look forward to arguing on behalf of A.C. and her mother in federal court," said Cliatt.
The case is C.B. & A.C. v. Central Dauphin School District, and a copy of the complaint is available at here.