LOS ANGELES - The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California filed a lawsuit today on behalf of pregnant and parenting teens who were funneled into sub-standard alternative education programs instead of being given the opportunity to continue their education at their local high schools. The suit names the Antelope Valley Union High School District and the Los Angeles County Office of Education as defendants and alleges violations under state and federal law, including Title IX.

"This school district has essentially coerced pregnant and parenting teens into leaving their local comprehensive public high school," said Soly Perez, Equal Justice Works Fellow with the ACLU of Southern California. "Instead of providing these students with the opportunity to continue receiving the best education possible, administrators presented students with what amounts to a false choice between child care for their children and receiving a quality education. These students here today want nothing more than to attend regular high school without losing critical support services."

In response to the large number of pregnant and parenting teens dropping out of school, in 1998, the California legislature passed a law creating a program designed to provide pregnant and parenting students with support services necessary to stay in school. This program is known as the California School Age Families Program, or Cal-SAFE. Cal-SAFE provides students with services such as child care and parenting and life skills instruction. By enrolling in Cal-SAFE students cannot be denied the right to take classes in their regular high school. The law gives students the option of enrolling in Cal-SAFE while continuing to take classes at their local high school.

"At my school we don't have the option of participating in the Cal-SAFE program while being enrolled in regular school courses," said Cecilia [not her real name], an Antelope Valley High School junior. "We are being asked to choose between day care for our children and receiving a good education."

"I would like to continue taking the college preparatory courses that I was taking before my daughter was born," she added. "That won't be possible under the way the program is currently being run."

"In California, about 60,000 teens give birth each year," said Nancy Solomon, senior staff attorney at the California Women's Law Center. "Teen child bearing generally leads to poor life outcomes for both mother and child, continuing a pattern of teen pregnancy, lack of education, and poverty. Completing high school is the first step in breaking this cycle and this lawsuit should be a wake-up call to school districts that they cannot deny pregnant and parenting students their rights without consequences."