SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — High school students who are becoming parents would be entitled to excused time off from classes under a bill approved by the New Mexico Legislature.
The measure allowing pregnant students or fathers-to-be to miss as many as 10 days for birth gained approval from the Senate late Wednesday, sending it to Gov. Susana Martinez, the Albuquerque Journal (http://bit.ly/YtKDvE ) reported. The bill also allows students to take off up to four days per semester for prenatal or child care.
Students would have to make arrangements with their teachers to make up the work they miss.
Supporters said the policy will support young parents, allow them to bond with their children, help students complete school and could prevent abortions. New Mexico has among the nation’s highest teen birth rates at 53 per 1,000 in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The national average was 34 per 1,000 in the same year.
“If we do not want young women to have abortions, then we must stand beside them and give them all the support we can in raising those children,” said Sen. Lisa Torraco, R-Albuquerque.
Opponents have expressed concern that the bill could be seen as rewarding teen parents.
“There used to be some sense of self-control, because people didn’t want to be in these positions. Now, it’s almost honorable,” said Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington. “It does seem to me that we are trying to take away as many of the consequences of our actions as we possibly can.”
Under federal law, schools must grant students with temporary disabilities a leave of absence for as long as a physician considers it medically necessary. That law also covers childbirth.
New Mexico considers students habitually truant if they have more than 10 unexcused absences in a school year, which leads to intervention by school officials and possible prosecution of the student’s parents. School districts have set their own policies on what represents an excused absence.
In Colorado, an attempt in 2008 to make maternity leave mandatory at Denver Public Schools met resistance from the national group Concerned Women for America. A group of teens was seeking changes that would allow maternity leave of four weeks before having to return to school.
But Concerned Women for America argued that extended teen maternity leave rewarded teens who get pregnant and promoted sex among teenagers.