The American Civil Liberties Union is in talks with the New Mexico State Legislature about implementing a system of excused maternity and parental leave for teen parents in public schools throughout the state.
Teen pregnancy rates in the United States are relatively low today, and the experience of being a teen parent has changed significantly from even a decade ago. Today, teen mothers are more likely than ever before to stay in school after they give birth. However, not all school districts allow excused absences for pregnancy complications and maternity leave, making it difficult for teens to continue their education and get the grades they need to be competitive after graduation.
Currently, if students are missing from school for more than ten days, significant consequences occur, up to and including arrests. However, after giving birth, teen mothers need time to be able to recover from labor and delivery. The proposed law would allow teen moms to take up to two weeks off school in order to recover following birth, and would give another 10-14 excused absences to parents during the school year in order to care for a child at home.
This system would allow students who have missed multiple weeks of schooling due to parenting responsibilities to continue attending and receiving passing grades, which currently many are unable to do. In many schools, teen mothers are allowed two weeks off but then given only another two weeks to make up incomplete coursework—a schedule that requires them to be completely caught up and back to classes as usual in just four weeks, far less than physician recommendations for maternity leave.
The proposed policy would allow both boys and girls to take time off if they were participating in the parenting of a child. Allowing fathers to participate in the program as well as mothers makes it more likely that more young fathers will stay in their children's lives, rather than simply paying support or becoming a deadbeat dad. Children who have contact with their fathers tend to be better off throughout their childhood and adult lives than those who are raised exclusively by single mothers, so this change could have a significant impact on children's lives for years to come.
Studies have shown that teen parents who are able to complete their high school educations have significantly lower rates of arrest and conviction for crimes. Graduation also makes greater economic independence possible for a number of teen parents, who otherwise are very likely to rely on the state for housing, food, and incidentals while they try to fulfill their parenting responsibilities.
New Mexico is one of the places where teen maternity leave laws could have the biggest impact. This is because the state is second-highest in the nation for teen birth rates, a troubling fact for the state's government. Currently, New Mexico's school curriculum has no sex education requirement and there are no statewide policies for what should or should not be covered in any sex education curriculum.
Sources: nmlegis.gov, aclu.org, ap.org