By Shantelle Hicks, ACLU client
When I walked into the school gymnasium, every kid in my entire middle school was staring right at me — all 400 of them. It was like a bad dream.
I was confused why the middle school department head had called me into the junior high assembly in the first place. Students who had attended this particular assembly last year didn't have to attend again and were free to work on homework and other assignments in their home room.
But I soon found out why.
After they called me away from homeroom into the assembly, the school department head made me stand up in front of my entire middle school and announced to everyone that I was pregnant. Until that moment, the only other student at school who knew was my sister. I was embarrassed, hurt and angry.
After they finished humiliating me in front of everyone at school, they had me sit back down in the bleachers. Some boys sitting behind me started kicking the back of my seat and harassing me. Soon all the other kids in school were teasing me, calling me names like "mama bear" and asking to touch my stomach.
I feel betrayed by my school. It's true that I was pregnant, but that doesn't mean I deserved to be harassed and publicly shamed in front of everyone. I deserve the same educational opportunities as every other student, boy or girl, pregnant or not. But some of the administrators at my boarding school felt that because of my pregnancy, I no longer belonged.
Two weeks before they announced my pregnancy to all my classmates, they tried to kick me out of school completely. When my mother told the school department head that I was pregnant, they said I could no longer attend my school because I would "set a bad example for the other girls." My mother contacted the ACLU and they told my school that it is illegal to discriminate against students because they are pregnant. After four days of missed classes, the school finally told me I could come back.
So when they couldn't kick me out of school, they decided to publicly humiliate me. Maybe they thought if they embarrassed me enough, I'd leave on my own. But I won't. I'm going to finish my education, graduate from high school then go to college so I can study nursing or criminal investigation.
Along with the ACLU, my family and I decided to sue my school, because we know what they did to me was wrong. It was wrong and we don't want any other female student to be treated the way I was treated. Pregnant and parenting students belong in public schools too, and we have the same rights as any other students. Hopefully this lawsuit will make schools everywhere start giving teen parents the respect and support we need to be successful students.
Shantelle Hicks is in the eighth grade at Wingate Elementary School in Fort Wingate, New Mexico. Wingate Elementary is a boarding school for Native American students grades K-8, run by the Bureau of Indian Education. On February 7, 2012, Shantelle gave birth to a healthy 8lb, 7oz girl named Georgiana. She returns to classes on March 19.