After being kicked out of school and publicly humiliated for being pregnant, 15-year-old Shantelle Hicks now has the American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU New Mexico on her side.
The groups filed a lawsuit against the school today alleging that school administrators violated Shantelle’s constitutional right to equal protection under the law, Title IX’s prohibitions against sex and pregnancy discrimination and violations of her right to privacy.
After disclosing to school officials that she was pregnant in October 2011, Shantelle was told she could no longer attend Wingate Elementary School, a Bureau of Indian Education-operated boarding school for Native American students in Ft. Wingate, New Mexico.
According to the complaint, officials told the eighth-grader she could no longer stay in the school’s dormitories because her pregnancy would set a bad example for the other students.
After Shantelle’s mother, Vicky Hicks, contacted ACLU of New Mexico and the group sent a letter to the school on October 17 asking that Shantelle be allowed to come back, the school agreed. Shantelle had missed four days of instruction.
About 10 days later—on or about October 27 according to the filed complaint—an all school assembly was called. During the assembly, Shantelle’s pregnancy was announced by the school’s director, Christine Edsitty-Beach, and a school counselor, Sadie Martinez. Shantelle’s pregnancy was not common knowledge and she was not showing at the time.
“It was so embarrassing to have all the other kids staring at me as I walked into the gymnasium,” said Hicks in an ACLU statement. “I didn’t want the whole school to know I was pregnant because it’s not their business, and it wasn’t right for my teachers to single me out.”
The ACLU of New Mexico believes the school officials embarrassed Shantelle in retaliation for refusing to leave Wingate.
“It is outrageous that educators would subject a young woman in their care to such cruelty,” said ACLU of New Mexico cooperating attorney Barry Klopfer, in the statement.
“Too often, pregnant students face significant barriers or outright discrimination in school,” said Galen Sherwin, staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, in the statement. “Instead, schools should give pregnant and parenting students the support they need to help them succeed, for both themselves and for their children.”
In a blog on The Washington Post website, Valerie Strauss calls the actions of Wingate teachers no more than bullying. “Outing a teenager as pregnant is nothing more than bullying, but when an adult does it, it sends a message that such behavior is acceptable,” she says in the blog. “Whatever one thinks about the pregnancy of an eighth-grader, there’s no way to condone a school leader humiliating her in front of her peers.”
The lawsuit is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, but no amount is specified in the complaint. The lawsuit also asks that defendants Edsitty-Beach and Martinez be required to attend gender and pregnancy discrimination training and that the school offer training to employees.