GALLUP, N.M. – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of New Mexico filed a lawsuit today on behalf of Shantelle Hicks, 15, who was initially kicked out of middle school and then publicly humiliated at an assembly by the school director and another staff member because she was pregnant.
The complaint alleges that school administrators violated Hicks’ constitutional right to equal protection under the law, Title IX’s prohibitions against sex and pregnancy discrimination and violations of her right to privacy.
“It was so embarrassing to have all the other kids staring at me as I walked into the gymnasium,” said Hicks. “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.”
Hicks attends Wingate Elementary School, a Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school, and is currently in the eighth grade. She discovered she was pregnant approximately three weeks before the assembly, and she and her mother told the director of the middle school and two other staff members. They initially responded by kicking her out of school. The ACLU of New Mexico sent a demand letter to the school, informing them that it is illegal to deny a student access to education because of pregnancy status. Wingate readmitted Hicks after four missed days of instruction.
Approximately two weeks later the director of the middle school and another staff member had Hicks stand before the entire middle school at an assembly and announced that she was pregnant. Until that point, no one other than Hicks’ sister knew that she was pregnant.
“Too often, pregnant students face significant barriers or outright discrimination in school,” said Galen Sherwin, staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “Instead, schools should give pregnant and parenting students the support they need to help them succeed, for both themselves and for their children.”
“The ACLU’s lawsuit seeks damages and declaratory relief for violations of Hicks’ constitutional right to equal protection under the law and of Title IX prohibitions against sex and pregnancy discrimination in education.”
“We believe that Wingate intentionally humiliated Shantelle in retaliation for her refusal to leave the school,” said ACLU of New Mexico cooperating attorney Barry Klopfer. “It is outrageous that educators would subject a young woman in their care to such cruelty. Adopting one’s moral convictions from the Scarlet Letter is completely inappropriate and fails to take into account a child’s educational needs.”
Lawyers on this case include Klopfer, Alexandra Freedman Smith, Laura Schauer Ives and Maureen Sanders of the ACLU of New Mexico; and Sherwin and Lenora Lapidus of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project.