Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Pamela Lampitt, Gabriela Mosquera, Benjie Wimberly, Joann Downey and Angela McKnight to help ensure equal rights and opportunities for pregnant students in pursuit of higher education was signed into law on Monday.
“Women who are pregnant – many of whom also work – face unique challenges as they pursue their education that their professors and peers may not even realize limit their capacity to succeed,” said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). “This law will make it easier for expectant parents to earn a degree so that they can better provide for their children.”
The new law (S-1489/A-1465) prohibits institutions of higher education from requiring a student to take a leave of absence, withdraw from an associate, bachelor’s or graduate program or limit her studies due to pregnancy or issues related to pregnancy.
“Many pregnant women working to earn a degree and better equip themselves to contribute to their families have it harder than a lot of their classmates,” said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester). “Supporting them as they pursue their education will ensure that they don’t feel obligated to choose between seeking proper prenatal and maternity care and earning a degree.”
The measure also requires schools to provide pregnant students with reasonable accommodations, for example allowing students to maintain a safe distance away from hazardous materials or make up examinations missed due to pregnancy-related issues, for the successful completion of coursework and research. Institutions would be required to develop, adopt and distribute policies regarding pregnancy discrimination.
“Title IX prohibits discrimination against pregnant students on college campuses, but it’s important that New Jersey institutions of higher learning go beyond that baseline and create a culture of welcoming the hard-working mothers-to-be who are dedicated to their education,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Expectant mothers should not be made to believe that their pregnancy will prevent them from being able to succeed.”
“Too many women hear that it’s virtually impossible to go to school if they’re pregnant. It’s a discouraging message, not one of empowerment,” said Downey (D-Monmouth). “By accommodating women as they prepare for motherhood and for a career, colleges and universities in New Jersey can ensure that pregnant students have equal opportunity on campus.”
“One of the first concerns for a number of students who find out they’re pregnant is whether or not they’ll be able to stay in school,” said McKnight (D-Hudson). “Colleges and universities can play a big role in alleviating that stress – and adhering to what’s required under federal law – by adopting policies that cater to pregnant women.”
Additionally, under the new law, a graduate student who chooses to take a leave of absence because she is pregnant or recently has given birth will be allowed a minimum of 12 months to prepare for and take preliminary and qualifying examinations. The normative time to degree while in candidacy for a degree for a pregnant graduate student would be increased in an amount equal to the length of the leave of absence, unless a longer extension is medically necessary.
The law also allows a graduate student who is not the birth parent to take additional time to prepare for preliminary and qualifying examinations if he or she needs to care for his or her partner or child.
A student in good academic standing who takes a leave of absence would return to his or her associate, bachelor’s or graduate program in good academic standing under the law.