College says all students must be informed of rights

September 4, 2015 Latest, News Print Print
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When student Samantha Harris encountered issues with her pregnancy while attending OSU-OKC eight years ago, she dropped out of school.

The business major said she felt she had no choice.

“I had all the morning sickness problems and other issues, and I dropped out because it was too much to handle,” she said.

Harris may have made a different choice had she known she could take time off from school under Title IX requirements that all state-funded schools must follow.

Enacted in 1972, the “Pregnant and Parenting” portion of Title IX makes it unlawful for schools to discriminate against pregnant or parenting students of any gender.

“Equal treatment and support for pregnant and parenting students is critical to ensuring that all female students have equal access to educational opportunities.

“It is also important for helping young fathers stay engaged in their children’s lives, remain in school, and complete their education,” according to the National Coalition for Women & Girls in Education website.

Harris said she didn’t have that information.

“With that act, it makes people willing to come back,” she said. “It’s like a safety feature [because] there are professors who aren’t willing to go that extra mile.”

OCCC’s Equal Opportunity Director and Title IX Coordinator Regina Switzer said beginning this semester, OCCC faculty were told to give students this information either verbally in class or by adding a new notification to the class syllabi.

“Title IX has certain things it requires that we do and getting that information out there is just a piece of it,” she said.

Title IX is a part of the Education Amendments of 1972. It was renamed the Patsy Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act in 2002 after the death of the U.S. Congresswomen who authored the act and fought for its passage.

It states, “no person should be denied benefits, subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity on the basis of sex.”

Switzer said the notification has been in the planning stages for about a year.

“That process started in the spring of last year and even before that when we first started getting the information from the Office of Civil Rights.

“I met with the deans and it was decided that I would send that notification to faculty so they could be aware,” she said.

“It was important to get the word out to students as well. We asked that it be in the handbook.

“It’s not a new policy. It’s a notification of what Title IX provides.”

According to the act, “Within Title IX, expectant and parenting students have the right to excused absences for pregnancy-related issues, reasonable time to make up work missed from excused absences, and maternity leave. If their schools provide temporarily disabled students with at-home tutoring, expectant and parenting students are also legally entitled to the same.

“Students cannot be kicked out of school for being pregnant or parenting and do not need to bring in medical notes to continue their education or continue participating in extracurricular activities.

“Additionally, parenting students have the right to privacy, and no school official can share their pregnancy information with anyone without full consent.

“And regardless of parenting status, students have the right to continue their learning without being shamed. As Title IX clarifies, harassment because of pregnancy is a form of sex discrimination and a violation of the federal law.”

Switzer said not every pregnant woman will require time off but those who do will receive it.

“It’s not just every pregnancy,” she said. “It’s a pregnancy that may require bedrest or time away or if there are complications.

“It’s for situations where there’s an extraordinary need.

Switzer said the college will work with faculty to ensure students are accommodated.

“ … Sometimes it takes a coordinated effort to get the professors to provide a little bit of flexibility and that they work with [students] to get caught up so they’re not disadvantaged.”

If a student needs to miss school for a long period of time, Switzer said, OCCC officials may require a doctor’s note upon returning.

“We do require that especially if it’s a situation where we have to go back and fix something — if it’s a late withdrawal or something — we’ll need some documentation,” she said.

“If they’re going to need to miss for an extended amount of time, a doctor’s note is going to be helpful and usually not hard for them to obtain because they are under a doctor’s care. We have to make sure that pregnant student status is preserved.”

The Department of Education website states, “Your school also must not require a doctor’s note from you after you have been hospitalized for childbirth unless it requires a doctor’s note from all students who have been hospitalized for other conditions.”

Switzer said there are other alternatives students may want to consider as well, such as the option to switch to online classes if there are any available for the on-campus courses the student is taking.

“Sometimes if a student finds out they’re pregnant, they’ll make a decision — especially if they’re in the entry-level courses — to shift to the online courses for the semester so they can still work even if they can’t make it to class.

“They can continue on at their own pace. That’s an accommodation that we sometimes will try to shoot for if it’s possible.

“It’s one of those things where we have to look for the best solution for that particular person and they have some say in it. They help shape the solution we arrive at.”

Switzer said Student Life and Student Support Services also are available to help pregnant and parenting students with accommodations.

“If the student has a complication like gestational diabetes, then that’s going to take it into a disability realm,” she said.

And, Switzer said, the law doesn’t only pertain to women.

“The law extends to new fathers too, and new same-sex partners,” she said. “It does extend to the other parent.”

Switzer said any student who encounters a problem that falls within Title IX or who wants additional information, can contact her at 405-682-7540, or at regina.a.switzer@occc.edu.

For a complete listing of rights, visit www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/dcl-know-rights-201306-title-ix.html.

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