ACLU Settles Kentucky Case of Pregnant Teens Denied Entry to Honor Society

Affiliate: ACLU of Kentucky
October 22, 1999 12:00 am

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COVINGTON, KY – A settlement between two teen mothers and the school district that denied them membership in the National Honor Society will pay the women $999 plus attorney’s fees, the Associated Press reported today.

The two young women, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (/news/testn080698a.html), contended in the suit against the Grant County schools that they were denied membership because Somer Chipman Hurston, then single, was pregnant and Chasity Glass had a child when Honor Society selections were made in the Spring of 1998. Both women graduated last Spring and are now in college.

According to the AP, National Honor Society guidelines state that pregnancy and paternity can be considered in evaluating character, on the four main membership standards.

But the ACLU, on behalf of the two women, said that female students are judged by more stringent standards since males can’t get pregnant, which provides visible proof of sexual activity.

Both young women had the necessary 3.5 grade point average and were involved in other school activities, as required by Honor Society guidelines, according to Sara Mandelbaum, an attorney with the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project who represented the students.

Mandelbaum told the news service that the most important outcome is the message that young women and young men cannot be judged by different standards of sexual conduct.

“We hope this message is heard by other school districts across the country,” she told the AP.

As part of the settlement, the ACLU will monitor the Honor Society selection process at Grant County High School for the next five years, Mandelbaum said.

David Friedman, general counsel for the ACLU of Kentucky, said the settlement will make Hurston and Glass permanent members of the Honor Society. He also told the AP that the settlement means the school is now barred from discriminating on the basis of gender or pregnancy.

If the school does elect to consider sexual activity as a factor in gauging eligibility, it may not use pregnancy as the sole means of determining who has been sexually active, Friedman added.

Last spring, a judge ordered the school district to allow Hurston and Glass to become Honor Society members, but they could have been removed from the rolls if they had lost the lawsuit.

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