LINCOLN — Anavelle Garcia of Omaha and Dania Delone of Lincoln are the exceptions.

Like hundreds of Nebraska girls each year, both got pregnant in high school, Garcia in her junior year, Delone in her sophomore year.

Unlike the majority of pregnant teenagers, however, both successfully juggled being mothers and students and managed to graduate on time.

Garcia made it, she said, although she had to stop breast-feeding because she couldn’t catch up with classwork and take time to pump milk during the school day.

Delone finished in spite of a counselor advising her, while pregnant, to drop out because the school couldn’t accommodate her needs.

“I was striving hard to take the first steps to becoming a model parent,” she said.

The two young women told their stories Monday to the Education Committee at hearings on a pair of bills aimed at helping out pregnant and parenting students.

Legislative Bill 427, sponsored by State Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha, makes clear that K-12 schools must accommodate student mothers who want to breast-feed.

The bill specifically requires that schools provide an appropriate place for students to pump breast milk and store it. The bill would apply to all public, private and parochial schools.

Vargas also introduced LB 428, which would require all school districts to adopt a policy for accommodating pregnant and parenting students.

The bill requires the state Department of Education to put out a model policy, which local districts could adapt.

At a minimum, however, district policies would have to address student absences during pregnancy, provide tutoring or other coursework alternatives for pregnant or parenting students, specify how districts would accommodate students who need to pump milk, and identify quality local child care providers if the district does not have in-school child care.

Vargas said the bills seek to make Nebraska schools more welcoming places for pregnant and parenting students.

Currently, he said, 70 percent of teen mothers leave school and do not return after having a child. That harms their future and the future of their children.

Vargas said the proposals seek “to address this disparity and make all of Nebraska’s schools a welcoming and inclusive place for pregnant and parenting students.”

Currently, Nebraska school districts have widely varied policies about pregnant and parenting students, according to surveys done by the ACLU of Nebraska.

Only 17 percent have formal policies that address the breast-feeding needs of students, the surveys found.

Danielle Conrad, executive director of the state ACLU, noted that many districts work with students on an informal basis.

But she said schools have a legal obligation to accommodate those students. Federal Title IX, which requires gender equity in education, prohibits discrimination related to pregnancy and childbirth.

In addition, Nebraska law provides that women can breast-feed anywhere they have a right to be.

State and federal laws specifically require that employers accommodate women who are breast-feeding or needing a private, sanitary place to pump breast milk.

Both bills drew support from groups concerned about child well-being. No opponents spoke on either bill.

Tom Venzor, executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, gave neutral testimony about the breast-feeding bill. He raised concerns about how its requirements would be implemented.

Martha Stoddard keeps legislators honest from The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where she covers news from the State Capitol. Follow her on Twitter @StoddardOWH. Phone: 402-473-9583.

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