Legal Update Memo No. 14-2019 – Education Code Requirement to Accommodate Pregnant or Parenting Pupils (K-12)

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As we round out the 2018-2019 school year, we would like to remind our clients of a law that went into effect January 1, 2019, providing additional protections and accommodations to pregnant and parenting students. This information was included in our Annual Notice to Parents, Memo No. 10-2019.

The new law, a copy of which is attached to this Legal Update, establishes a protected parental leave program for any “pregnant or parenting pupil.”[1] Pupils who qualify are entitled to up to eight weeks of parental leave from school, which can be taken before or after the birth of the child, during the school year that the child is born, inclusive of summer instruction.[2] Pupils are not required to take all eight weeks of leave, and may not be required to take leave if they do not wish to take it. A pregnant or parenting pupil is entitled to more than eight weeks if their physician determines that it is medically necessary.[3]

When on leave, students may not be penalized for their absence, or required to perform any academic work. They must also be provided the opportunity to remain enrolled for a fifth year of instruction in the school they were previously enrolled, if the school determines it is necessary, to complete graduation requirements.[4]

Additional protections include:

  • Students cannot be forced to participate in pregnant minor classes or other alternative education programs;[5]
  • Requirement that schools provide reasonable accommodations for pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions the same as other temporary disabilities;[6] and
  • Recognizing an excused absence when a student is absent due to their child’s illness or medical appointment.[7]
    • If a student is absent to care for an ill child, the school may not require a doctor’s note.

Lastly, schools must provide notice to parents and students of pregnant and parenting students’ rights under the law.[8] This requirement is satisfied if schools include the following suggested language in the Annual Notice to Parents, and includes similar language in student-facing notices, such as a student handbook, “welcome packet,” or independent study packet (the following sample language was included in Memo No. 10-2019):

PREGNANT AND PARENTING PUPILS (EC §§ 221.51, 222, 222.5, 46015): Districts may not exclude nor deny any pupil from any educational program or activity on the basis of the pupil’s pregnancy, childbirth, false pregnancy, termination of pregnancy, or recovery therefrom, and shall treat these conditions in the same manner and under the same policies as any other temporary disabling condition. A pregnant or parenting pupil is entitled to 8 weeks of parental leave, or additional leave if deemed medically necessary by the pupil’s physician. During parental leave, absences shall be excused and the pupil shall not be required to complete academic work or other school requirements. After return from parental leave, a pupil may resume the course of study in which he/she was previously enrolled, is entitled to make up work missed, and to take a fifth year of high school instruction if necessary to complete graduation requirements. A pupil may elect to attend an alternative education option instead of returning to the school in which he or she was enrolled prior to parental leave. Schools shall provide reasonable accommodations to a lactating pupil on a school campus to express breast milk, breast-feed an infant child, or address other needs related to breast-feeding. A pupil shall not incur an academic penalty as a result of his or her use of these accommodations.

Legal Update written by Kaitlyn A. Schwendeman, Schools Legal Counsel.

Please contact our office with questions regarding this Legal Update or any other legal matter.

The information in this Legal Update is provided as a summary of law and is not intended as legal advice.  Application of the law may vary depending on the particular facts and circumstances at issue.  We, therefore, recommend that you consult legal counsel to advise you on how the law applies to your specific situation.

© 2019 School and College Legal Services of California

 All rights reserved.  However, SCLS grants permission to any current SCLS client to use, reproduce, and distribute this Legal Update in its entirety for the client’s own non-commercial purposes.

[1] Defined as “a pupil who gives or expects to give birth or a parenting pupil who has not given birth and who identifies as the parent of the infant.”  Ed. Code Section 46015. This would apply to both of the biological parents of the infant, and may also apply to a partner of the pregnant student who is not a biological parent, but is in a “parenting” relationship.

[2] Leave taken prior to the child’s birth is permissible “if there is a medical necessity…in order to protect the health of the pupil who gives or expects to give birth and the infant,” and leave after the birth is considered baby bonding leave. Ed. Code Section 46015.

[3] Ed. Code Section 46015.

[4] Ed. Code Section 46015.

[5] Ed. Code Section 221.51.

[6] This may include, for example, providing a private location (other than a restroom) for a student who needs to express breastmilk during the school day, if requested. Ed. Code Section 221.51.

[7] Ed. Code Section 48205.

[8] Ed. Code Sections 222.5 and 48980.