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DECEMBER , 1998   12:34 PM
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: American Civil Liberties Union
 
Kentucky Court Says Teen Moms Must Be Admitted into National Honor Society
 
COVINGTON, KY - December 30 - Two high school seniors whose school denied them National Honor Society membership because of their pregnancies must be admitted into the society, a federal court ruled today in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Saying that "the balance tips decidedly in favor of" Grant County High School students Somer Chipman Hurston, 17, and Chasity Glass, 18, Chief Judge William O. Bertelsman, Jr. issued a preliminary injunction ordering the Grant County School Board to admit the students into the society for the rest of their senior year while they wait for their case to come to trial.

Sara L. Mandelbaum, Senior Staff Attorney for the ACLU's Women's Rights Project, said that Hurston and Glass were both "thrilled and excited" when she telephoned them with the news.

"This ruling is important in the immediate sense in that it will allow Somer and Chasity to include NHS membership in their college applications and allow them to participate in the many NHS activities planned throughout the school year," Mandelbaum said.

"Significantly," she added, "the court also made clear that the reasons put forth by Grant County school officials do not justify keeping these A students out of the National Honor Society."

In his 13-page ruling, Judge Bertelsman said that "although the defendants argue that they are not basing their decision on pregnancy, but rather on non-marital sexual relations, the disparate impact on young women such as [Chipman and Glass] is apparent."

Indeed, in affidavits submitted to the court, more than a dozen Grant County High School students who were admitted to NHS testified that no one connected with the society or the school had asked them whether they engaged in non-marital sex.

Mandelbaum said that the ACLU's next step would be to ask the court for a permanent injunction, to ensure that Chipman and Glass are considered lifetime members of the NHS. A permanent ruling would also set a legal precedent against any further incidents of discrimination in the state and around the nation, she said.

If the school appeals the ruling, the ACLU will fight the appeal.

Despite their top grades and records of high achievement, Chipman and Glass were the only students in the school eligible for membership to be excluded from the 1998 induction into the National Honor Society (NHS).

In court papers filed on August 6, 1998, the ACLU said the school had illegally discriminated against the students, violating Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the state and federal Constitutions, and the Kentucky Civil Rights Act.

Treating pregnant or parenting students differently from others discriminates against young women, the ACLU said, because all pregnant students are female and the overwhelming majority of students raising children are also female.

Somer Chipman, 17, was pregnant at the time of the honor society induction last April. She gave birth on June 1 to a daughter, Cheyenne, and married her 20-year-old fiancé, Shawn Hurston, in August. Chasity Glass, 18, is the mother of 20-month-old Shelby. The lawsuits were brought on the students' behalf by their mothers, Brenda Jones and Sheila Glass.

Defendants in the case are the Grant County School District (GCSD); District Superintendent James Simpson; Board Chair James W. Colson; Board Vice-Chair Marvin Smoot; and GCSD Board Members Janet Faulkner, Jim Jones, and Billie Cahill.

The case is Chipman v. Grant County School District, et al., filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, Covington Division.

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