No one at Delhi Charter School in rural northeast Louisiana realized there was anything wrong with the policy until the American Civil Liberties Union's state chapter threatened to sue, said chairman Albert Christman. The policy has gotten "everybody up in a roar," he said.
The school required students who were suspected of being pregnant to take a pregnancy test. If they refused, or tested positive, they had to be home-schooled. The ACLU said the policy violated Title IX of the 1972 federal education law, which requires equal opportunities for both sexes.
Too many schools do not realize pregnant students should receive equal treatment, the National Women's Law Center said in a June report.
"Despite enormous advances for women and girls in education since 1972, schools across the country continue to bar pregnant and parenting students from activities, kick them out of school, pressure them to attend alternative programs, and penalize them for pregnancy-related absences," the law center said in the report.
Fatima Goss Graves, vice president for education and employment at the nonprofit group, said the center gets several calls a month from high school and college students who are pregnant or have children, and are having trouble with their schools. Many of those problems are corrected just by telling students their rights and explaining how to negotiate with administrators, she said.
Goss Graves said she had never seen a school policy "that said you must take a pregnancy test in order to attend school. Or one that pushes, so overtly, students out."
In New Mexico, a boarding school run by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs was sued in March by the ACLU of New Mexico, alleging that administrators expelled a pregnant 15-year-old. After she was allowed back in class, school officials made her tell the entire school she was pregnant, the civil rights group said.
School officials disputed those allegations, saying the student's mother asked for home-schooling and they did not make the student admit she was pregnant, according to court documents.
Christman, the Delhi school board chairman, said "just a handful" of students were affected by the policy, which dates to 2006. All of them "came back to school and finished their school," he said.
Delhi Charter, where classes begin next Wednesday, has about 600 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. It's one of the best-performing schools in rural Richland Parish.
The ACLU acted on a complaint from a member of the community who doesn't want to talk to reporters, said Marjorie Esman, executive director of the state chapter. She would not give any details about the person's identity.
Goss Graves said she was disappointed administrators hadn't known about the education law.
"This is the type of thing that educational institutions should know," she said. "To me it suggests that there needs to be a serious public education campaign, serious efforts to educate schools about their obligations."
Louisiana Department of Education spokesman Barry Landry said he did not know the state's policies for pregnant students or whether they apply to private and religious schools getting tuition vouchers.