Justice

The Punishment This School Gave a Teenage Student for Getting Pregnant Is Ridiculous

Early next month, Maddi Runkles will graduate from high school. While graduation is a milestone for many teenagers, it’s an especially rare feat for Runkles, who is pregnant. About 90 percent of pregnant teens drop out of school.

But instead of celebrating her accomplishment with her fellow classmates, Runkles will have to do so in the privacy of her own home. Runkles has been barred from walking in her graduation, The New York Times reports.

Runkles is straight-A student who played on the school's soccer team and was president of the student council. She found out she was pregnant earlier this year and subsequently informed officials at her nondenominational Christian school, Heritage Academy. 

Missing graduation is part of the punishment handed down by school officials. She was also suspended for two days and kicked out of student council. (The father of Runkles’s baby is not a student at Heritage Academy.)

Runkles will still receive her diploma, but won’t get to wear a cap and gown and join in the festivities with her classmates.

graduation

Principal David Hobbs says that Runkles is being punished not because she is pregnant but because she had sex, according to a letter posted on the school website. Hobbs noted that he’s pleased that Runkles did not have an abortion, but that she still engaged in immoral behavior. The school promotes abstinence until marriage and students sign a pledge to abstain from “sexual immorality.”

“We love Maddi Runkles. The best way to love her right now is to hold her accountable for her immorality that began this situation,” Hobbs wrote.

Runkles agrees with the school that she should be punished for her actions, but told The Times that other students who have broken the school code (drinking) haven’t been treated as harshly and are still allowed to participate in graduation. She feels her punishment is heightened because the result of her sexual activity are visible in the form of her pregnancy. 

Runkles’s experience is not unique to her. In 2012, students at Louisiana public school were forced to take pregnancy tests, and kicked out of school and required to undergo home-schooling if they had a positive test. In 2015, Illinois Caucus, a group that advocates for health policy for young people, spoke to three teenage girls who were told to transfer schools for "safety" reasons. 

pregnant teen

Runkles also feels the school’s decision is at odds with other Christian teachings, namely opposition to abortion. 

“Some pro-life people are against the killing of unborn babies, but they won’t speak out in support of the girl who chooses to keep her baby,” Runkles told The Times. “Honestly, that makes me feel like maybe the abortion would have been better. Then they would have just forgiven me, rather than deal with this visible consequence.”

Pro-life groups have rallied behind Runkles, saying they fear the lack of support from school officials could influence young women to choose abortion rather than suffer the stigma of being pregnant. 

“Not allowing Maddi to walk in her graduation ceremony sends the message that being pregnant in a Christian school is an embarrassment that should be hidden away,” Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, wrote in a blog post for the organization. The group came to Runkles’s aid and attempted to convince the school to reverse their decision. “This example may be the turning point causing many students to turn away from the pro-life and Christian message.”

Runkles reportedly did briefly consider abortion, but with support from her family, decided to keep her baby. According to CBS, Runkles is expecting her baby boy in September. She intends to name him Grayson, after God's grace and forgiveness.