Coast Guard Cadet Reaches Settlement with Coast Guard Academy Over Policy Banning Parents

Affiliate: ACLU of Connecticut
October 6, 2022 9:15 am

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Gillian Branstetter, ACLU,
Meghan Holden, ACLU Foundation of Connecticut,
Alex Johnson, Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic,

HARTFORD, Conn. — The American Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Connecticut, and Yale Law School’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic have reached a settlement with the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Academy on behalf of a former cadet challenging the academy’s policy of banning cadets from being parents.

In 2014, just weeks before he was expected to graduate, Isaak Olson, a cadet at the USCG Academy, was expelled from the academy and denied his completed bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and commission as an officer solely because his fiancée had given birth to their first child. As part of the settlement agreement, Olson will be awarded his degree as well as a written statement explaining that his cadet appointment was terminated solely due to the academy’s ban on cadet parents.

“No one should ever have to choose between the honor of being a Coast Guard cadet and the honor of being a parent. I’m thankful the academy has reached a settlement that recognizes my right to both,” said Isaak Olson, former cadet at the USCG Academy. “Becoming a parent shouldn’t be seen as a hardship. Cadets who are parents should be afforded the same opportunity to uphold the Coast Guard’s standards as their peers. I look forward to the day that cadets are given the same rights as the rest of the service.”

The USCG Academy policy prohibiting cadets from being parents remains in effect. As part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022 signed by President Biden, the Department of Defense is actively revising similar policies at the U.S. Air Force, Military, and Naval academies to ensure that cadets can preserve their parental rights. The USCG Academy is run by the Department of Homeland Security.

“We believe that bans on parenthood are wrong for every military service academy — and, in fact, have no place in any institution,” said Linda Morris, staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “The Coast Guard Academy’s ban on parenthood was adopted only after it began admitting women as cadets, and is rooted in harmful and outdated gender stereotypes. The Biden administration can and should act immediately to end this discriminatory policy at the Coast Guard Academy.”

“No school should force students to choose between becoming parents and earning their degrees. It is good news that the U.S. Coast Guard Academy will finally confer Isaak Olson with the degree that he earned. Moving forward, we hope that the academy will honor cadets’ rights to be parents by revising its cadet parenthood ban. Coast Guard cadets in Connecticut should have protections for their right to be parents, just like students at other schools in our state,” said Elana Bildner, ACLU Foundation of Connecticut senior staff attorney.

“Isaak Olson was denied his degree and commission because of an unconstitutional policy infringing on one of the most fundamental rights, the decision to become a parent. We hope the Academy acts soon so that no future cadet will be penalized for pregnancy or parenthood,” said Yael Caplan, a law student intern with the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School.

“We are thrilled that Mr. Olson has finally received his degree after eight long years, but we look forward to the day when pregnancy and parenthood are no longer barriers for other Coast Guard cadets,” added Alex Johnson, another law student intern with the Yale clinic.

The suit was filed in federal court on Dec. 8, 2021 by the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School, the American Civil Liberties Union’s Women’s Rights Project, and the ACLU Foundation of Connecticut.

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