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New Protections for Pregnant and Parenting Students in Texas

New Protections for Pregnant and Parenting Students in Texas

Texas just enacted several groundbreaking new laws to protect pregnant and parenting college students at public institutions of higher education! While the protections only cover some aspects of student’s education, we’re celebrating as Texas is now one of just a few states to explicitly protect postsecondary student parents from discrimination. What’s more, beginning this fall semester, Texas student parents will be entitled to priority registration. The state now also requires public higher education institutions to collect and report data, have a campus student parent advocate, and implement pregnant and parenting student anti-discrimination policies.

Read about the highlights of these new laws and how to get help implementing them below:

1. Texas law now bans discrimination against students due to their pregnancy or parental status.

Texas Ed. Code. § 51.982 (SB 412) protects parenting students from: being forced out of school; limiting their studies; attending an alternative program; changing their major, degree, or certificate program; and being forced into or out of any particular course, activity, or program based solely on their parenting status or “issues related to the student’s pregnancy or parenting.” While Title IX (and various anti-discrimination laws) has long prohibited discrimination against pregnant and birthing students, most anti-discrimination laws only protect parenting students from discrimination on the basis of sex or marital status.(Other laws prohibit discrimination against parents in housing only.)The Texas law is pathbreaking because it protects parenting students of children under 18 from discrimination in their academic life regardless of whether the discrimination they face is sex-based or not. And, by including “issues related” to pregnancy and parenting, the law provides broad coverage. The law goes into effect September 1, 2023.

2. Pregnant or parenting students will be entitled to take a leave of absence.

Texas Ed. Code. § 51.982 (SB 412) allows pregnant and parenting students to take a leave of absence and return in good standing without being required to reapply for admission. Under Title IX, students are entitled to leave for as long as medically necessary for pregnancy, childbirth, and related conditions—but not for parenting. Texas law goes beyond Title IX by requiring institutions to provide their parenting college students with protected leave, though it does not specify how long students are allowed to take. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has been tasked with establishing rules on leave length. The Pregnant Scholar will update this post and share additional information from the Board as soon as it becomes available.

3. Parenting students in Texas are now entitled to priority registration.

Starting September 1, 2023, any public postsecondary institution which provides early registration has to offer it to parenting students because of Texas Ed. Code § 51.983 (SB459). Under this law, students who are a parent or legal guardian of a child under 18 are entitled to register early!  Learn more about why this is so important in our blog about CA’s priority registration law, here.

4. Reasonable accommodations for pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions must be provided.

Under Texas Ed. Code. § 51.982 (SB 412), like Title IX, pregnant students are entitled to accommodations that are related to the health and safety of their pregnancy and cannot be treated worse than students with other temporary medical conditions. The Texas law adds more guidance by making clear that colleges and universities must allow students to have excused absences for pregnancy and make up missed assignments.  

5. Institutions of higher education are required to adopt a nondiscrimination policy to protect pregnant and parenting students.

Texas Ed. Code. § 51.982 (SB 412) requires public colleges and universities to adopt a nondiscrimination policy specifically for pregnant and parenting students. This policy must include the contact information for an administrative official that is responsible for helping a student obtain accommodations related to their pregnancy. Further, this policy must be easily accessible on the institution’s website, and it must be provided to faculty, staff, and employees of the institution regularly.

This is a critical part of the new law. Often, institutions do not specifically mention pregnant and parenting students in Title IX policies—leaving students and faculty in the dark. Requiring universities to have a separate nondiscrimination policy for pregnant and parenting students will help increase awareness of these protections and will ensure that students who need help know where to find it.

6. Institutions must have a designated support “liaison” for student parents.

Student parents have to navigate a tangle of support programs, application processes, and regulations. Now, with Texas Ed. Code. § 51.982 (SB597/HB1361), student parents and incoming students will have the help of a student parent liaison to provide them with information about resources and supports such as health coverage, housing and food benefits, and childcare resources. This is similar to “basic needs” coordinators in other states—but designated specifically for student parents.

7. Institutions must collect data on student parents in Texas.

Texas just joined a small handful of states requiring the collection of data regarding student parents. Texas Ed. Code. § 51.982 (SB597/HB1361) now requires on-campus student parent liaisons to report to the state each year the number of student parents and their basic demographic data. The law will also require higher education institutions to report information about student parents’ academic progress—including withdrawals and enrollment status. This data is critical to understanding whether educational institutions are meeting student parents’ needs, and for sorting out where additional support should be provided.

8. Institutions must be careful to follow Title IX and the new Texas laws.

Enacting this state law is a major milestone for pregnant and parenting students! While these laws go further than Title IX in many areas, educational institutions should be careful to continue to meet their Title IX obligations. For example, as institutions draft their policies on leave as required under Texas Ed. Code. § 51.982 (SB 412), they must also meet Title IX standards regarding medically necessary leave  and documentation requirements. Further, administrators should remain mindful of student privacy protections under Title IX and other federal law.

Looking to implement a new law in your state?

The Pregnant Scholar maintains a database of state legislation and model bills that can assist your efforts. Please reach out to [email protected] more information.

New Title IX Regulations are HERE! To learn more and be the first to receive our updated materials, visit our Title IX Updates page.