Our Model Policy provides an example of how to successfully implement rules that satisfy Title IX and provide adequate support for pregnant and parenting students. When drafting and implementing your institution’s policy, it is useful to keep in mind the following basic principles and best practices.
Policies should reflect the diversity of family structures. Although many universities have policies that cover childbearing women, non-birth parents may also need the benefits of a family leave or accommodation policy. Where leave or other accommodations for “baby bonding” or parenting responsibilities are provided to birth mothers, they must be equally provided to fathers or other parents. Although birth mothers may be given additional protections related to their medical needs in pregnancy and childbirth, failure to provide non-birth parents with equal leave and benefits for caring for a new child may constitute discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, family status and/or disability.
Title IX requires that institutions provide leave, at minimum, for as long as deemed medically necessary by a student’s doctor. If your institution provides medical or temporary disability leave, but not maternity leave, pregnant women should be eligible for leave under such policies. Although leave must be made available, universities may not require a student to take a leave of absence, or otherwise limit her studies due to pregnancy or childbirth. When medically necessary leave is taken, students are legally entitled to return to their program in the status they held before the leave began. Institutions may not penalize or otherwise discriminate against students for taking leave for pregnancy or childbirth.
Title IX requires educational institutions to ensure equal opportunity in employment. Additionally, various state and federal laws that protect employees can also apply to student workers, including the Family and Medical Leave Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Policies should be drafted so that their protections—accommodations, leave, and non-retaliation—clearly extend to student workers. Those who supervise student workers should be trained on such policies.
Additionally, Title IX prohibits institutions from denying non-employment sources of funding on the basis of pregnancy, including funding from fellowships, scholarships, or athletic programs.
When drafting your policy, be careful to protect not only students experiencing pregnancy, but also related conditions, which are also covered by Title IX. Related conditions may include false pregnancy, abortion, miscarriage, childbirth, recovery, and various related medical conditions.
Although not required by Title IX, providing supportive services and accommodations to new parents will ensure they are able to stay on track academically while recovering from childbirth or adjusting to new family responsibilities. Such policies support students who want to continue their studies without the interruption of a long leave term.
Title IX requires that services or benefits that are provided to new parents be provided without discrimination on the basis of sex. For example, if your institution provides bonding or family leave time to new mothers, it must do the same for fathers.
Schools are legally mandated to have a Title IX Coordinator, to post anti-discrimination policies, and to train staff on compliance. Widespread education on student, faculty, and staff rights and responsibilities—and the consequences for discrimination—is critical to achieving equality in your institution.
The Model Policy includes a recommendation that leave be provided for caretaking of immediate family members in addition to leave for new parents, just like in employment law. Providing the option for students to take time off to care for spouses, children, and parents, supports students by being responsive to the fact that their responsibilities aren’t limited to the first few months of parenting. Moreover, including a broad caretaking policy reduces the backlash felt by new parents, and creates buy-in from varied populations. Finally, this may reduce liability from potential claims based on the ADA association clause.
Accommodations are changes in the environment or typical operations which enable a person to continue to pursue their studies and enjoy equal benefits of the institution. Universities should engage with students affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions to identify appropriate accommodations. Examples of common accommodations include:
The following are some examples of university policies that utilize all or some of our Key Principles for Creating a Model Policy. Although no policy is perfect, these examples may serve as helpful models for institutions considering updating their policies for pregnant and parenting students. To suggest a best practice policy for inclusion as an example, or for more information on policy implementation, please contact us.
The following are examples of policies that permit new student parents to postpone the completion of academic requirements while retaining benefits.
Columbia University, School of Arts and Sciences
This policy provides at least 12 weeks of accommodations for doctoral students who become parents through birth, adoption, guardianship or fostering. The program may suspend requirements for class attendance, exams, other course-related requirements, lab work, or work toward the dissertation. In addition, teaching responsibilities may be suspended, except for those students on external fellowships, who must follow the conditions of their funding agency. The accommodation period preserves student status, funding, health insurance, and housing eligibility.
An extension of the accommodation period is available for an additional semester, however funding is not provided during an extension period, and students must pay certain fees to retain student benefits.
In addition to the accommodation period, students are permitted to take a leave of absence. This leave can be the form of personal or medical leave for one or two semesters, with a possibility of extension.
University of Michigan, Rackham Graduate School
Graduate students in good standing are entitled to a “Parental Accommodation” period of up to 6 weeks following the birth of a child or adoption of a child under six years of age. During this time the student is entitled to “a modification of deadlines and academic expectations to accommodate the student’s new parental responsibilities” including assignments, exams and other requirements, as determined in consultation with the student’s advisor. During the Accommodation Period, students retain any salary or stipend and benefits, except as otherwise stated in their contract or grant. Following the expiration of the six week term, Rackham encourages faulty to remain flexible with their academic expectations.
This accommodation period is in addition to Rackham’s “Within-Semester Medical Accommodation,” Time Limit Extensions for Family Care, and policies for extended leave. (Detailed here)
University of Notre Dame
Students who are “primary and full-time caregivers”* of a newborn or newly placed child (under five years of age) are eligible for 16 weeks of accommodation. During an accommodation period, students are relieved of full-time duties including teaching and research, and academic and authorship deadlines. Students are provided “maximum flexibility” throughout the first six weeks, then the student negotiates a reduction in workload for the remaining ten weeks. During the accommodation term, the student remains enrolled and retains eligibility for benefits such as health insurance and university funding. Students with external funding sources are subject to their funders’ paid leave terms, however, the Graduate School will pay up to half of the student’s stipend during the leave term.
This accommodation policy is in addition to Notre Dame’s leave policy and “medical separation policy” that enables graduate students to be absent for six weeks while retaining their normal stipend.
*Note, The Pregnant Scholar recommends the provision of accommodations and leave to parents who are joint or part time caregivers as well.
Cornell University, Graduate School
Cornell’s policy provides eligible graduate student parents with two accommodation options upon the birth or placement of their child. One option allows for the provision of 6 weeks wherein the student is relieved of academic or research responsibilities. The student retains the regular stipend support and all benefits during this time. An additional two weeks is provided in the case of a birth mother who undergoes cesarean delivery.
The second option provides up to two semesters of “reduced load status.” In this status, eligible graduate students are able to keep their registration status and accompanying benefits such as housing and health insurance, yet cease taking classes and receiving stipends/salaries.
In addition to the policies that continue a student’s stipend during parental accommodation periods, many campuses deal with student employee leave in contract provisions and employee policies. The following is an example of paid parental leave for student employees.
The University of California, system-wide
The parental leave provisions of this agreement (pg 20-22), which have largely been extended to non-union Graduate Student Researchers as well, provide:
Many students report that a major difficulty in continuing their studies was a lack of support for breastfeeding, including a lack of lactation rooms and time between classes to pump. Below are examples of some universities that excel in the provision of lactation space and/or providing student-friendly resources.
University of California, Davis
The UC Davis program provides students, staff, faculty, affiliates and their partners with access lactation consultants, support groups, and over 40 designated lactation spaces with hospital-grade pumps. Davis reports that there is a designated lactation space within a five minute walk of every campus building.
The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
UNC Chapel Hill provides at leave ten designated lactation rooms on its main campus, and its Women’s Center offers assistance working with building managers to establish additional spaces as needed. The Women’s Center provides user-friendly information regarding the rooms and support resources, while the University’s Medical Center has a “Warm Line” that provides responses to breastfeeding questions and connects mothers with lactation consultants.
Michigan State University
Michigan State provides students, faculty, and staff with access to designated lactation spaces across campus as well as counseling and assistance with scheduling and locating a space to pump. Notably, Michigan State includes a user-friendly map of lactation spaces to assist users in locating designated spaces.
Often, members of a university community are unaware of Title IX’s protections for pregnant and parenting students, as well as support services that may be available. The lack of awareness is particularly prevalent when it comes to disability accommodations for pregnant students, and the ability to file grievances for non-compliance. The following are examples of successful outreach tools.
The University of Washington
The University of Washington provides user-friendly and easily accessible information on Title IX’s applicability to pregnancy and parenting on its website. The website clearly identifies points of contact for accessing resources as well as for filing complaints with the Title IX office or Department of Education. Moreover, the university makes clear linkages between pregnancy and disability services. The “For Pregnant Students” brochure is a model publication as it identifies legal rights and on campus support resources, and provides user-friendly examples of prohibited behavior.
Cornell University provides a website, “Students With Families” that contains information for expectant students and parenting students. The site is a comprehensive, easily accessible guide to the myriad issues pregnant and parenting students face, and provides lists of available resources. Notably, the website identifies key contacts within various departments to serve as advisors or points of contact for pregnant students.
University of California, Berkeley
Following efforts by The Pregnant Scholar team, Berkeley began including a notice of accommodation for pregnant and parenting students in its campus-wide notice on student accommodations. The notice reminds instructors of their responsibilities to excuse students’ medically-necessary absences and make accommodations.