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Alternative Classes Are Unfair to Teen Mothers, Suit Says

Antelope Valley district is placing the students in rooms with 'little or no teaching instruction,' a complaint contends.

September 02, 2004|Richard Fausset | Times Staff Writer

Pregnant students and teen mothers are being unlawfully moved from regular classes at Antelope Valley public high schools to alternative classrooms that are "little more than a study hall," according to a class-action lawsuit filed in federal court Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The complaint alleges Antelope Valley Union High School District officials illegally tell pregnant students and mothers that they must do the majority of their schoolwork in the special classrooms if they want to receive free child care and other state services.

Those classrooms offer no college-preparatory or language courses and "little or no teaching instruction," the suit states.

Officials from the school district refused to comment on the lawsuit Wednesday, saying they had not reviewed it.

The ACLU contends the alleged policy is "based upon discredited stereotypes that pregnant and parenting students ... should stay out of sight and leave the public school system." The group also says the policy is unconstitutional and violates anti-discrimination laws.

"These girls are already at risk of dropping out," said Nancy Solomon, an attorney with the California Women's Law Center who consulted with the ACLU on the complaint. Solomon said some students may prefer the special classrooms. "But there are a lot of girls who want to stay in the [regular classes] that are on the road to college."

The ACLU estimates 120 students go to the special classrooms, which are at Palmdale, Highland and Antelope Valley high schools and at an alternative school in Lancaster.

One of the two plaintiffs listed in the case is a 15-year-old girl who spent the second semester of the last school year at Antelope Valley High's special classroom. The girl, a junior who has a 1-year-old child, said the class consisted of students from eighth to 12th grade, with one teacher overseeing them. Most of their study was based on textbooks and prepared work packets said the girl, who did not want to give her name.

When she tried to register for college-prep classes this year, the girl said a school counselor told her that she had to take at least five of her classes in the special classroom to remain eligible for free child care. She decided to drop out of the child-care program and take regular classes until the case is decided.

The child care and the special classrooms are part of a statewide program enacted in 2000 called Cal-SAFE. The California law that governs the program states that school districts must "ensure that enrolled pupils retain their right to participate in any comprehensive school or educational alternative programs in which they could otherwise enroll."

The Los Angeles County Office of Education, which operates the special classrooms, also is named as a defendant. Officials there also declined to comment.

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