AR Briefly

Support systems for pregnant and parenting high schoolers become Arkansas law

By: - February 26, 2023 2:30 am
Mother uses her hand to hold her baby's tiny hand to make him feeling her love, warm and secure. Newborn.

(Getty Images)

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a law Friday that would create support systems in public and charter schools for pregnant and parenting teenagers.

The Support for Pregnant and Parenting Students Act, or House Bill 1161, passed both chambers of the Legislature without a single “no” vote. It was sent to Sanders’ desk on Wednesday.

The new law requires public schools and open-enrollment charter schools to allow at least 10 days of excused absences for both teenage parents after the birth of their child. This is an exception to the legal requirement for schools to consider students truant and dismiss them after they miss more than 10 days of school.

The law also requires schools to excuse teen parents’ absences due to:

  • Labor, delivery and recovery
  • Prenatal and postnatal doctors’ appointments and other “medically necessary” absences related to pregnancy
  • Children’s illnesses or doctors’ appointments
  • Legal appointments regarding adoption, custody, visitation and other matters related to pregnancy and parenting
  • Students would have “a reasonable amount of time” that is at least the number of days they were absent to make up for schoolwork they missed, according to the bill.

Rep. Ashley Hudson (D-Little Rock), the law’s primary sponsor, said her experience as an employment lawyer led her to shape this portion of the bill similarly to existing family leave policies.

Students are not allowed to bring their children to school with them, so schools are required to provide pregnant and parenting students with information about daycare facilities in the area, which is publicly available in an Arkansas Department of Human Services online database.

Additionally, schools are required to designate a private space for lactating students to pump and breastfeed, as well as refrigerated space to store breast milk in a nurse’s office, teacher’s lounge or other location with an expectation of privacy.

The law had bipartisan sponsorship in the Legislature: four Democrats and three Republicans in the House, and two Democrats and three Republicans in the Senate.

The Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families organization supports the legislation and believes it will reduce the high school dropout rate of teenage parents, education policy director Olivia Gardner told the House Education Committee on Feb. 7.

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Tess Vrbin
Tess Vrbin

Tess Vrbin came to the Advocate from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, where she reported on low-income housing and tenants' rights, and won awards for her coverage of 2021 flooding and tornado damage in rural Arkansas. She previously covered local government for The Commercial Dispatch in Mississippi and state government for the Columbia Daily Tribune in Missouri.