Chrystal Stokes, 19, found out she was pregnant during her sophomore year at Elgin High School.
She had her daughter, Nevaeh, on Oct. 30, 2010. Stokes took six weeks of maternity leave, completing assignments and staying up-to-date on her class work with the help of an at-home tutor, and then she returned to finish her junior and senior years. She plans to start Elgin Community College in January.
The reason Stokes got six weeks of excused absences from Elgin High and the reason the school sent a tutor to her home every day is because of Title IX. The groundbreaking legislation is about a lot more than women in sports; it also lays the foundation for equity between the genders in access to higher education, career education, employment, learning environment, sexual harassment, standardized testing, STEM -- science, technology, engineering and math -- courses, and education for pregnant and parenting students.
Elgin Area School District U-46 has a Teen Parents Protocol standardizing the response to pregnant students districtwide. When Stokes told her algebra teacher she was pregnant, she was directed to Patty Kenyon. Kenyon, the high school's nurse, serves as the point person for the district's pregnant and parenting services offered to the teen, including weekly meetings with other teen parents.
It was in these meetings Stokes found out how to get her LINK card for state benefits and where to apply for assistance from the Department of Human Services.
"Everything was falling into place," Stokes said. "It just helped me get on my feet."
Making a difference
For Stokes, dropping out of school was never an option. She found out she was pregnant and knew right away she would figure out how to graduate. Other students are not so sure.
Monica Gonzalez, 17, gave birth to daughter Giselle in May. She thought about having her baby and staying home, but teachers pressured her to stay in school and get her diploma. Linda Swanson, the U-46 Parents As Teachers program coordinator, said that's one way the protocol has been successful -- across the board, the assumption now is that the student will return to school after giving birth.
"All the research shows the single-biggest indicator of future success of a child is maternal education," Swanson said. "We have this protocol in place, and I think it has made a lot of difference."
Because of Title IX, young moms and parenting fathers must have equal access to school programs and extracurricular activities. The same attendance policy applied to students with medical conditions or temporary disabilities must be applied to pregnant teens and those recovering from childbirth -- that's why Stokes got an at-home tutor for her six-week maternity leave. Schools can't push pregnant teens into alternative programs; they have to be allowed to stay in their own schools if they want to. And schools can't take away scholarships because of pregnancy.
Lisa Maatz is the American Association of University Women director of public policy and government relations. She works in Washington, D.C., pressuring the government on a variety of AAUW priorities, including Title IX. Maatz said the data reporting requirements of the legislation when it comes to athletics helped keep awareness of that part of the law high.
"Sunshine's the best disinfectant," Maatz said. "People who are well-meaning, when they saw that there was a problem when they did their data, said, 'Let's fix it.' The folks who weren't well-meaning, somebody else said, 'Hey you're going to fix this.' It created a much more transparent process. We don't have reporting in place for the other aspects of Title IX."
The federal Office of Civil Rights collects data from schools nationwide and recently started asking about bullying and harassment. Title IX requires schools to provide a safe environment where sexual harassment does not interfere with learning. However, when the AAUW looked at the 20 largest schools in the country, 14 of them reported zero cases that academic year.
The group is trying to draw attention to the implausibility of those numbers and push for more accuracy in reporting.
"When you have kids killing themselves because they're being harassed, clearly we're falling down on the job when it comes to creating a safe climate," Maatz sad.
In 2009, the latest year for which data is publicly available for local schools from the Office of Civil Rights, Elgin's U-46, St. Charles Unit District 303, Community Unit District 300, Northwest Suburban High School District 214 and Mundelein High School District 120 all showed zero cases of students reporting to have been harassed. Some of those schools reported independent allegations of harassment or more students being disciplined for the offense.
The summary for Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 and its 20 schools, though, is different. In District 200, there were 111 allegations of harassment based on sex, race or disability. There were 145 students reported to have been harassed and 110 students disciplined for harassment in the three areas covered. But the difference in numbers between Wheaton and Elgin, for example, may not indicate a greater problem in District 200.
Robert Rammer, District 200's assistant superintendent for operations, said there is a particular focus on issues of bullying and harassment in the district. At the start of every academic year, teachers go over the school handbook with students, highlighting the definitions of harassment and how to report it. Rammer said there is a "heightened sense" in district schools that leads to students reporting and administrators responding to bullying situations more than in other schools.
Palatine's Promise programs happen monthly at Palatine High School, addressing bullying with a range of topics. Program coordinator Jennifer Grapethin said the largely student-run program came in response to a bullying survey, the results of which shocked educators in Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211.
"A committee got together and said we have to do something to improve the environment in this building, so kids feel safe here and kids have fun here," Grapethin said.
This is the fifth year the Palatine's Promise program has helped create just that environment.
The National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education released a report this year celebrating 40 years of Title IX. It said enforcement is key with sexual harassment and encouraged schools to go beyond merely putting policies in place.
Across the board, more attention to the nonathletic components of Title IX is a must for continued progress. Maatz, of the AAUW, said many people assigned as Title IX coordinators in schools don't know the law deals with issues such as harassment, and if the individuals who should be advising principals, department heads and guidance counselors don't understand the broadness of the law, enforcement is jeopardized.
While President Bill Clinton's administration funded a national Title IX resource center, George W. Bush's administration closed it. President Barack Obama's administration has left it closed.
The resource center gave support with training and outreach, providing sample policies and best practices, and connected Title IX coordinators with each other and experts in the field. With teachers, administrators, students and parents changing every year in schools, Title IX advocates point to the need to review policies and procedures annually and have support to do so.
President Bush's administration also softened the restrictions against single-sex education through Title IX, leading to a rise in the all-girl or all-boy classrooms in public schools across the country. A National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education report urges the Department of Education to take back the changes and put an end to inequitable programs that opponents say just reinforce sex stereotypes and lead to inequity.
"As a country, we don't have such a great history when it comes to separate but equal," Maatz said.
Career and technical education classes -- such as wood shop and home economics -- that were once gendered as a rule now are not because of Title IX. The National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education report found the percentage of career and technical education classes leading to nontraditional careers went from zero when Title IX was first passed to more than 25 percent in the 2009-10 academic year. Huge growth also has come in the number of female students on college campuses and the number of women teaching on college campuses.
But the work is not done. And whether it's about an individual school's harassment policy or the broad reach of Title IX as a comprehensive piece of legislation, there's a reason for constant vigilance.
"There's always a need to make sure that we don't become complacent in our view of equality and appropriate treatment," District 200's Rammer said. "You would think after all this time, do we need speed limits on the road? Sure we do, because sometimes people don't drive appropriately."