Pregnant at 18. Hailed by Abortion Foes. Punished by Christian School

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Rob Fall's picture

I can see taking away her student body office, but not letting her walk is something else. All they had top do was put her in among the rest in alpha order.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Julie Anne's picture

What message will this send to any other students who end up pregnant?  Abortion would be an easier escape route now.  

This school missed an opportunity. She did everything the right way after discovering she was pregnant. She confessed. She asked forgiveness. She's going to spend a lifetime paying for her sin.  Not allowing her to graduate is just like heaping coals on her.  What the school should have done was removed her from her position as president of student council.  Explain to the students that she had confessed and asked forgiveness and now their job was to do what Christ would do: forgive her and support support her and her unborn child.  What a testimony of love, repentance/forgiveness and reconciliation that would be for the whole school.  I'm glad this young lady has the support of her parents. They seem wonderful. 

Aaron Blumer's picture

I don't think anybody punished her "for her decision to keep her baby." There were some bad choices that led to there being a baby in the first place. Surely that's obvious. So there's a bit of intentional obfuscation going on there in the article. There's actually no reason at all a student can't be both disciplined for fornication and lauded for rejecting abortion at the same time. But as for the latter, it's not like choosing to refrain from killing a defenseless human being is a heroic act. It's just basic human decency. (Nobody sings my praises for the people I choose not to kill every day.)

Lee's picture

A quote from RZ from a number of years back which may have some implications to our thinking. 

“We have all had a moment when all of a sudden we looked around and thought: The world is changing, I am seeing it change. This is for me the moment when the new America began: I was at a graduation ceremony at a public high school in New Jersey. It was 1971 or 1972. One by one a stream of black-robed students walked across the stage and received their diplomas. And a pretty young girl with red hair, big under her graduation gown, walked up to receive hers. The auditorium stood up and applauded. I looked at my sister: “She’s going to have a baby.”
The girl was eight months pregnant and had the courage to go through with her pregnancy and take her finals and finish school despite society’s disapproval.
But: Society wasn’t disapproving. It was applauding. Applause is a right and generous response for a young girl with grit and heart. And yet, in the sound of that applause I heard a wall falling, a thousand-year wall, a wall of sanctions that said: We as a society do not approve of teenaged unwed motherhood because it is not good for the child, not good for the mother and not good for us.
The old America had a delicate sense of the difference between the general (“We disapprove”) and the particular (Let’s go help her”). We had the moral self-confidence to sustain the paradox, to sustain the distance between “official” disapproval and “unofficial” succor. The old America would not have applauded the girl in the big graduation gown, but some of its individuals would have helped her not only materially but with some measure of emotional support. We don’t so much anymore. For all our tolerance and talk we don’t show much love to what used to be called girls in trouble. As we’ve gotten more open-minded we’ve gotten more closed-hearted.
Message to society: What you applaud, you encourage. And: Watch out what you celebrate."

This is a tough situation for all involved.  I'm not sure publicly second-guessing is in the best interest of the cause of Christ right now. 

Lee

Lee's picture

Julie Anne wrote:

What message will this send to any other students who end up pregnant?  Abortion would be an easier escape route now.  

This school missed an opportunity. She did everything the right way after discovering she was pregnant. She confessed. She asked forgiveness. She's going to spend a lifetime paying for her sin.  Not allowing her to graduate is just like heaping coals on her.  What the school should have done was removed her from her position as president of student council.  Explain to the students that she had confessed and asked forgiveness and now their job was to do what Christ would do: forgive her and support support her and her unborn child.  What a testimony of love, repentance/forgiveness and reconciliation that would be for the whole school.  I'm glad this young lady has the support of her parents. They seem wonderful. 

One of the consistent elements of the truly repentant throughout Scripture is that they judge their own situation along with its repercussions in a greater manner than they are judged (David and the prodigal son just to name a couple).  The unrepentant respond as did Cain--"My punishment is greater than I can bear."

Lee

Bert Perry's picture

OK, what about the boy?

It strikes me that a girl walking across the stage great with child is going to feel some shame about this.  I would dare suggest that the school may have missed a great chance to communicate the reality of the Gospel to their community here.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Unless he was a student at the same school, they would have no right nor responsibility to deal with him.  Admittedly, this is a very tough situation.  How should the school have gone about demonstrating forgiveness or communicating the gospel AT the graduation ceremony?  To do so earlier with the student body would have been a good move.  But what about those attending graduation who have no knowledge of the situation, save the visual  evidence of fornication?  Should the girl express her repentance to that audience?  Should the school make a statement about her sin and repentance to that audience?

Yes, its a tough situation, and I don't intend to second guess the school on this one.

G. N. Barkman

Julie Anne's picture

 But what about those attending graduation who have no knowledge of the situation, save the visual  evidence of fornication?  Should the girl express her repentance to that audience?  Should the school make a statement about her sin and repentance to that audience?

No. Let her walk in peace. The people who need to know, already know.  Most won't notice anyway because the gowns are like tents. Graduation should be a celebratory day. 

G. N. Barkman's picture

I'm inclined to agree.  However, I'm troubled by the indication that she and her parents have engaged an outside group to pressure her school.  That does not look like repentance to me.  "God in peace" presupposes evidence of repentance.  What is the proper response for the school if her posture is defiance?

This is why I am reluctant to try to second guess the school.  We don't know the words and attitudes manifested in private conversations, so on what basis can we correct the action taken by the school, and recommend a different approach.  It looks too much like Monday morning quarterbacking, except we can't claim to have even seen all of the game.

G. N. Barkman

TylerR's picture

The teen in question said this:

“Some pro-life people are against the killing of unborn babies, but they won’t speak out in support of the girl who chooses to keep her baby,” she said. “Honestly, that makes me feel like maybe the abortion would have been better. Then they would have just forgiven me, rather than deal with this visible consequence.”

I'm certain every single thing mentioned in this thread occurred to the school administrators. I'm also certain they tried to do what they felt was best, balancing the need for grace and compassion (after all, Jesus can and will forgive sexual sin!) and the need to not condone the action, or seeming to condone it to the student body. I had a vaguely similar situation when I was a Pastor, involving a couple which were co-habitating and wanted me to marry them. There are too many extenuating factors to outline here, but bottom line - it was a very tough decision for me to make. I received counsel from several experienced Pastors (all of whom I deeply respect) to go one way, and I ultimately rejected that advice and went the other. My "professional" instincts told me to do one thing, but common sense and the opinion of my deacon (a very intelligent, down to earth, practical kind of guy) told me to do the opposite.    

Regarding this teenager, it's a difficult decision. It's impossible to understand the dynamics of the situation from our keyboards. I would tend towards grace. Others would tend towards the other option. Very hard to have to make these decisions.

But, I do wonder how the NYT got hold of this story . . .  That's the real story.

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Bert Perry's picture

...finally got to the article, and here's what I notice.  First of all, the boy is not at the school, and they're not going to get married--it may be he's not a believer.  Maybe.  

Lot of things out there.  To me, it's telling that Students for Life thought there was something remarkable about her keeping her baby.  Think about that one a minute; is something in what "we" are currently doing sending young ladies from our churches to the abortion mills?  That's what Guttmacher suggests, although it's not clear what portion of "Christian" young women served by Planned Infanticide are of the evangelical/fundamental stripe.  

And let's be blunt here about what her punishment is. She apologized before the whole school, went to talk about her experience with Students for Life, is carrying a baby through her last semester in school, and is suffering huge hits to her career and marriage prospects.  Preventing her from graduating is simply salt in the wounds, an injury that is going to make Planned Parenthood seem like a better option to many.  

Which is, I'd guess, why the family asked the school to reconsider.  There are sins committed where perhaps the church ought to be harsher, but this simply isn't one of them.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Larry's picture

FYI, she is not being prevented from graduating. She is graduating.

However, I wonder if someone might explain what it is about grace and forgiveness that makes not marching an unjust consequence? Why does grace and forgiveness require that? 

Jay's picture

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." - 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

I think that the decision to bar her from walking is wrong and gutless. There are plenty of consequences for getting pregnant out of wedlock, and piling on by barring her from her high school graduation is ridiculous and petty. I have to wonder if part of it is motivated by a desire to keep their 'testimony' pure by not having a 'sinner' walk for commencement. She sinned, just like all of us do, and barring her from graduation limelight just reinforces the temptation that she is already dealing with - it would have been far better to abort her son, go to BJU, and pursue whatever her original plan than to repent and deal with the consequences of her sin. At least people would understand and forgive her for murder instead of just sexual sin. Pregnant and unmarried women who are seeking to rebuild their lives need help from God's people, not more condemnation from the church or our organizations. And doesn't the Bible say something about ministering to widows and orphans anyway?

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Jay's picture

However, I wonder if someone might explain what it is about grace and forgiveness that makes not marching an unjust consequence? Why does grace and forgiveness require that? 

Why should premarital sex keep someone from marching with their class?  I'm not seeing a direct correlation between the two.  If she had assaulted a teacher or set fire to the school property, then OK.  

Furthermore, she got pregnant in Dec/January.  Not in May/June, when graduation is occuring - her father is right to note that the punishment should have been served when she confessed, not several months after the fact.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Jim Racke's picture

This is Maddi's father and I'd like to share a few thoughts. I'm not a social media user but I understand that Maddi's story is creating a lot of buzz (both for and against Maddi) among folks that do use it. The first thing I want everyone to understand is that we are not out to make Heritage or it's leadership look bad. I have dedicated more hours to Heritage over the last eight years than many of you could imagine. Heritage is a special place for me and my family despite what Maddi is experiencing. Heritage is a good school that promotes a lot of the ideals that are important to me as a Christian and that is the reason we entrusted them with the education of our children through their most formidable years.

Second, despite what some may think, Maddi nor her mother and I have ever advocated that she not be disciplined for her actions. My daughter should be held accountable for what she did. Discipline is a necessary piece of the picture but grace and love should be more prominent...that is how restoration takes place. Maddi's discipline should have occurred shortly after her confession so we could all focus on the restoration and enjoying her senior year. Putting her discipline at the end of the year has only resulted in bitterness and hard feelings. To the detractors, ask yourself how restoration can take place when you put a students punishment at the very end of their high school career. When do you plan to show Maddi the love and grace that is supposed to take place after discipline. Your window of opportunity has unfortunately closed. There are some who have been very supportive of her during this time and they are the ones that will be endeared to her for a lifetime. Those that have not loved her through this will likely be forgotten soon or at the very least you will be the source of bad memories. There are some who have made it clear that Maddi is not welcome there. Maybe it's because she is a pregnant girl at a Christian school or maybe it's because they want to send the message that this behavior isn't tolerated, but either way these folks have failed to represent Christ effectively in this situation.

I have been on the board at Heritage for five years and have been involved in plenty of discipline issues. Unfortunately, this is the first time that I'm aware of that we have not allowed a senior to walk in their graduation because they broke a rule. I have always fought for a balance of discipline, grace and restoration but I don't see that in Maddi's case. Heritage has done a good job in the past about not punishing a student in a way that it detracts from their hard work academically but for whatever reason that seems to be absent here.

The last point I want to make is that this issue isn't just about Heritage. This issue is much bigger than just this small school in Western Maryland. A number of national media outlets want to talk with us but they would not be interested if this issue were just localized to Heritage. This is a national issue and the decision that Heritage made is emblematic of other Christian schools across the country. All too often it is easy just to focus on the discipline aspect of girls like Maddi who made the mistake of having premarital sex. Unfortunately, this sort of approach inadvertently contributes to abortion and even worse, suicide. Maddi briefly considered abortion because of the attitudes from others that she correctly predicted but thankfully she made the right choice in the face of those dire prospects. We are doing all that we can to take Maddi's story to a national level so that Christian schools are more thoughtful in how Christ would want us to handle these situations...especially with girls like Maddi who have so clearly demonstrated a repentant attitude.

A few last thoughts and I'll leave you alone. 1) Dave Hobbs and the board at Heritage are good people. I know there are some who want to put all of this on their shoulders but that would not be the Christian way to handle this situation. In the face of my family begging for grace and love for Maddi I will not be hypocritical in calling for anyone to blame all of this on them. I know that deep down they care for Maddi and our family. 2) Lets not forget about the prospective fathers in these cases. In our situation, the father of the baby is very much involved and I'm proud of him for stepping up to this challenge. My advocacy for grace and love extends to these young men too. 3) I hope that this issue causes all of us to think twice about the roles that discipline, grace and restoration play in our lives. All of them are necessary components and they can be extremely effective when used correctly, but as we can see they are very divisive when not used correctly. 4) Most importantly, please pray for Maddi, our family and the rest of those impacted by all of this that we grow from it and above all, we give God the glory for the blessings that we hope this will yield.

Jim Racke

Aaron Blumer's picture

Thanks for your thoughtful response.
I wonder, though, what sort of protocols the school already had in place forsuch situations. Christian schools usually have pretty specific prohibitions and penalties in this area And they are around for very long, they have a history for how they're handled.
In any case, I don't thinkbeing barred from marching is unusual. And discipline is often not a quickly-over thing.

Jay's picture

I wonder, though, what sort of protocols the school already had in place for such situations.

If some young woman (not Maddi) had gotten pregnant in March, April or May instead of Dec. / Jan, and had dealt with it properly, would the school still bar her from walking at commencement?  Or would we be OK with it since nobody would be aware of or notice it during the festivities?

That's something that bothers me about this whole situation.  

I think, that if someone wanted to make a case for pregnancy discrimination against Heritage, they might be able to do so here; I'm fairly sure that there have been other court cases like this in similar instances, and the courts ruled for the plaintiff / student.  Now, it seems like no one is doing that here, but a non-Christian or nominally Christian family might not be as forgiving as the Rackes are. Frankly, I'm not sure I would be as forgiving either after the embarrassment that Heritage is making of her.  I don't know how I'd respond.

It just seems to me that passages like Matthew 9:12-13 and James 2:8-13 should apply to this situation.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Bert Perry's picture

I believe this is the website of the Heritage Academy we're writing about.  As far as I can tell, they've got a student handbook of about 50 pages, and student conduct is also guided by the agreements which students and parents sign upon coming into the school.   Absent the nuns with rulers, it reminds me of the Catholic schools I admired as a kid.  And more Bible, less Magisterium, too, of course.

Appreciated the father's note here as well.  

One thing that comes to mind about this situation is that sometimes it's good for us to see the evidence of the consequences of sin and not hide it.  To draw a different picture, imagine a student had gotten drunk and crashed his car, suffering some pretty serious injuries.  Now if I were the principal, I wouldn't obligate him to attend commencement, but neither would I forbid him.

Gospel opportunity there, Gospel opportunity here.  Teaching opportunity.  We have a heritage from our Victorian forebears of hiding the evidence of sin; maybe it's time to reevaluate that.   Maybe this heritage simply gives the (false) impression that Christianity is all about being without sin, instead of repenting of it.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Julie Anne's picture

Jim, I have nothing but respect for you and your wife on how you have responded to your daughter's pregnancy. I see nothing but love and grace, yet I also see that you know that it was important for her to face consequences, and we all know the biggest consequence that will last her a lifetime, her baby. I have a blog that deals with spiritual abuse and this situation could easily have caused your daughter to abandon her faith. This situation will cause others who are fence sitters to say, "enough is enough, if this is how Christians deal with a pregnant teen, I'm done!"  

I've been on the phone with young adults as they cry about how their parents and siblings are shunning them for fill-in-the-blank sin. Our response to sin is so important. It can bring life or death to a situation (emotional, spiritual, and sometimes even physical). Thank you for bringing life to this situation and supporting your daughter. She is one blessed daughter.

Larry Nelson's picture

 

Per numerous articles I have seen, Maddi Runkles' father's name is Scott Runkles.  In several articles, her father is mentioned as being the President of the Heritage Academy School Board (a position from which he has reportedly now resigned). 

See page 3 of the school's handbook to see "Scott Runkles" listed:

http://heritage-academy.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Student-Family-Policy-Handbook-2016-17.pdf 

SI member "Jim Racke" apparently copied & pasted the father's remarks from some other (uncited) source, without that fact being made clear.

C. D. Cauthorne Jr.'s picture

This issue isn't just about Heritage. This issue is much bigger than just this small school in Western Maryland. A number of national media outlets want to talk with us but they would not be interested if this issue were just localized to Heritage. This is a national issue and the decision that Heritage made is emblematic of other Christian schools across the country. All too often it is easy just to focus on the discipline aspect of girls like Maddi who made the mistake of having premarital sex. Unfortunately, this sort of approach inadvertently contributes to abortion and even worse, suicide. Maddi briefly considered abortion because of the attitudes from others that she correctly predicted but thankfully she made the right choice in the face of those dire prospects. We are doing all that we can to take Maddi's story to a national level so that Christian schools are more thoughtful in how Christ would want us to handle these situations...especially with girls like Maddi who have so clearly demonstrated a repentant attitude.

Maddi's father is very open about their goal in all of this.  They are attacking the longstanding tradition of parochial schools that have a "morality code" where certain activities (such as premarital sex) are grounds for expulsion.  That's why the New York Times chose to run with this story.

A "repentant attitude" involves being ashamed of one's sinful activity (not putting yourself out there as a crusader) and graciously accepting any punishment that is meted out for it (not disputing a school's longstanding policies).  I have seen neither in this situation.

20 years ago, I suspect this would have resulted in an expulsion, and the family would have been scrambling around trying to find a school that would accept her credits and give her a diploma.  Heritage Academy was right in how it dealt with this situation, and we are blind if we do not see the larger agenda here.  

Sexual immorality is still more than simply a "mistake."

Bert Perry's picture

Are we really willing to say that Biblical repentance means "accepting any punishment meted out?"  Say a girl's skirt fails the fingertip rule by 3mm, and the school board recommends flogging or execution?  And if the family objects, they're in the wrong?

Seriously?  

It strikes me that, Biblically speaking, one of the great glories of the Mosaic law is that the ever-escalating cycles of retribution common in Middle Eastern law of the time were restrained to "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth."  Cities of refuge were established to protect those guilty of manslaughter from punishments appropriate to murder.  In the same way, the Apostle Paul rebuked the Corinthian church for failing to receive an errant member after he had repented of his sin.

So Biblically speaking, no church or Christian school board has carte blanche to impose whatever penalty seems right to them at the time, and repentant sinners do indeed have the right to object to excessively harsh penalties.  So objecting to the school board's penalty does NOT indicate a lack of repentance here.

In this case, we really need to take a look at what Paul said about this very kind of situation in places like 1 Cor. 6 & 7.  Flee from fornication, Paul says, and if a man can't exercise self-control towards his fiance, he should marry her.  This young lady was caught in fornication, and she's not only fled it, but is using her case as a Gospel tool.

We need to be careful that our punishments don't exceed what Scripture describes, lest we drive our neighbors from the Gospel and young girls to Planned Parenthood.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

C. D. Cauthorne Jr.'s picture

I am fairly certain that families which have students enrolled at Harvest Academy are given a Parent/Teacher/Student Handbook that clearly lays out school policies for such infractions as premarital sex.  Usually such handbooks are even signed.

Any disputing with the rules should have been done prior to enrollment.  I'm sure the family knew (and had accepted) the rules of Harvest Academy.  That being the case, this also becomes a submission to authority issue.

Bert Perry's picture

CD, nobody's disputing the rules.  They're disputing the punishment, which is entirely Biblical.  So if you've got a problem with the Biblical principle of appealing for leniency (2. Cor. 2:3-11), well, you've got a problem with authority.

And for reference, the school rules (I linked their site above) do not, thankfully, spell out every penalty, which means that the board has discretion, which would necessarily involve the alleged offender and his (her) family.   So again, the family does not have a problem with authority here, as they're working within the structure.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Larry Nelson's picture

Here is an article (lengthy, but relevant) on the ACSI's (the Christian school association of which Heritage Academy is a member) website:

 

Practicing Redemptive Discipline

Part I: Do Pregnant Students See the Grace of God in Action at Your School?

The Problem Several years ago a radio program from Focus on the Family caught my attention. Dr. Dobson was discussing with a panel of college administrators the topic of teen pregnancy. The discussion turned to students getting abortions so they could remain in Christian colleges. I was stunned at the thought-that students felt so pressured to keep up appearances and to remain in school that they would commit a second sin (murder) to cover up their first sin (sex outside of marriage). I have pondered that program ever since and wondered about its relevance to students on a Christian high school campus.

Many commentators agree that there have been dramatic changes over the past 15 to 20 years regarding the moral issues within the teen culture. Soaring divorce rates of parents (including Christian parents), absentee parents (especially fathers), the effects of the feminist movement, the aggressive secularization of schools and society, the widespread availability of entertainment media from sensual movies to Internet pornography, suggestive music lyrics, as well as additional factors have all contributed to the moral decline. In 1997 the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University reported results from its surveys, showing that 38 percent of 15-year-old girls and 45 percent of 15-year-old boys had engaged in sexual intercourse. 1 Another study, reported in the American School Board Journal, indicated that by age 18, 56 percent of the girls and 73 percent of the boys have become sexually active. 2

Here are comments made by two Christian school administrators answering a morality survey conducted by a Christian school in Arkansas:

Anyone who works with teens knows the incidence of sexual activity is very high. As school administrators we certainly become aware of probably no more than a small percentage of those who are sexually active-if that many. Confidential surveys reveal that easily 50 percent of the students graduating from Christian schools are sexually active. With 2 this in mind, to -throw the book‖ at the 10 percent who are found out hardly seems productive. Treating a girl who gets pregnant differently from her boyfriend or a girl who has sex and doesn't get pregnant is indefensible, but we all do it. The double standard affecting boys and girls is still alive and well. Anyone who says they've eliminated the problem-no matter what the policy-is living with their head in the sand.

If a girl is able to keep it quiet and miscarries or has an abortion, she has "gotten away with it." The girl who knows she has sinned by having sex before marriage, but refuses to kill her baby is the one who is likely to be punished.

Several years ago I requested information from member schools regarding their student moral and pregnancy policies. My thanks to the many schools that responded. Virtually all ACSI member schools have policies with strong prohibitions regarding inappropriate sexual activity. However, I believe that most schools probably have sexually active students whose behavior their administration knows nothing about. If a student is reported to be sexually active or is reported to be pregnant, the typical school checks into the matter, invokes its zero-tolerance policy, and removes the student from the school.

I'm suggesting that schools consider taking a different approach-a more redemptive approach-in dealing with such students, if conditions warrant. Where better to learn Christian role modeling than in the midst of a crisis where students can see the grace of God in action? As one administrator from Colorado put it,

We found [that the automatic dismissal policy] kept students from seeking help from staff when they were involved in sin and wanted to break that behavior. They knew they would face suspension if we knew they were involved sexually (or with other immoral behaviors). We were losing a big ministry opportunity to restore students. In the desire to maintain biblical standards of morality and be open to work with the repentant students, we changed our policy. [Our] new policy allows us strict authority to remove the unrepentant student immediately and much flexibility to work with a student working towards restoration.

Zero Tolerance or Redemptive Discipline?

Most of the sample policies that schools sent regarding student pregnancy had a zero tolerance approach. If students get into sexual trouble, expel them. This is a simple policy that is easy to administer. So why consider another approach that is more difficult, more time consuming, and can more easily generate public relations difficulties for the school, particularly within the Christian community? Simply this-you want to minister to youth during a difficult time in their lives, not discard them so that they may never again darken the doors 3 of a church, or worse, never repent and experience forgiveness and restoration. If you can stand by a repentant student during his or her hour of trouble, a lifetime of commitment to Christ may have been gained.

So what does a redemptive policy look like, whether dealing with student drug issues, pregnancy, or other problems? What factors need to be considered? All the letters that I received supporting a redemptive policy approach started by saying that this must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. If the student does not appear to be truly repentant, it would be better for the student to be educated elsewhere. A redemptive policy will only work with students who are willing to face their problems and admit their faults. Likewise, their parents must be supportive and be willing to work with the school during the restorative process. If the attitudes of the student or the parents are not right, don't attempt to go through all that is required under a redemptive policy.

An Indiana administrator wrote:

We handle problems on a case-by-case basis guided by established policy. We have the latitude to tailor probation to the unique needs of the school and individual students. A repentant heart is the main circumstance necessary for us to be willing to provide an option to expulsion. It is impossible to regulate that! We do provide counseling, recommend outside counseling, get parents and churches involved.... Our goal here at [the school] is for our students to become disciples of Jesus Christ. Problems often offer the best opportunities for growth with this goal in mind.... I tell our students regularly that short of selling drugs on our campus or carrying a weapon to school, if they make a mistake (sin), there will be consequences, but our goal is to help them if they have a desire to be helped. The heart is the key!

Will the school be criticized if it adopts a restorative policy? It might be. I had letters from administrators who implemented such policies and were divided on the issue. Some had experienced difficulties. How well the policy is written, administered, and communicated to all constituents may be the key to why the restorative policy may be criticized in one school but not in another.

A New York administrator wrote the following:

When immorality has occurred, our response has varied. Some kids have been expelled immediately. In other cases the students remained in school but went through suspensions, counseling, probations, and disciplines over a length of time, etc. Family situations and attitudes are always key factors. Also weighing heavily are the track records, attitudes, and circumstances of those involved. Most recently we went through this with a guy and girl when he was in grade 10 and she in grade 9. Both families were intact, Christian, and strong supporters of the school and Christian education. Working through a redemptive discipline, including 4 counseling for students and parents, success was achieved as both students have since graduated, are enrolled in Christian colleges, and are walking with the Lord today. We have our critics as a result of this flexible approach, but I believe in trying to be redemptive when at all possible. Choices bring consequences, for sure, but balancing justice with mercy is a tightrope, effort and risk not withstanding, worth walking.

Writing Your Own Student Redemptive Discipline Policy

What are some of the issues that must be addressed in a student redemptive discipline policy? This section will address various important components that should be considered. Such a policy or components of the policy can be used not only for students experiencing sexual immorality issues, but also for students in trouble for drug experimentation or other major discipline issues. By considering all these components, your school can craft a workable policy that meets the legitimate needs of your school as well as the spiritual needs of your students.

As you consider the components listed below, it will be necessary to determine which of the items need to be part of a written school policy and which items are more procedural in nature. Policies usually cover the major issues but leave a lot of the procedural issues to the administrative staff. Here are some of the issues that your school will need answers for when it faces major student problems: attitudes of the family and student; arrangement for counseling; discipleship training for the student; arrangements for continued education; guidelines for student interaction with the baby; graduation participation decisions; and what should be communicated regarding this student discipline problem.

A. Rationale for the Policy. Sometimes it is helpful to have a preamble that provides an introduction to an actual policy. In the examples below, you can see how two schools introduced their student pregnancy policies: [Christian High School] is a school that has a discipleship program for Christian students who want the encouragement, teaching, and fellowship that will enable them to see clearly and live consistently a God-honoring lifestyle.

[Christian High School] is a light to the community and not only its policies but also its people must bear witness to Christ. We want to teach all of God's nature-holiness and purity along with love and forgiveness and restoration. We also want to teach personal responsibility. We do not condone sexual immorality, and we believe abortion to be against God's law. Pregnancy itself is God's gift, and we want to be clear in our dealing with it that we not confuse the act of immorality with the value of the child.

Jesus abhorred the sin but loved the sinner (John 8:1-11). We must do the same. Certain privileges may necessarily be denied, but pregnancy in 5 and of itself will not automatically exclude a student from completing his or her course work at [Christian High School]. The policy governs both male and female students.

From a school in Washington State

Recognizing that it is the responsibility of both parents and the Christian school to educate students about the biblical principle of sexual purity before marriage, and that pregnancy in and of itself is not sin but can be the result of sin, it is the policy of this school to intervene when a student becomes pregnant.

The purpose of the intervention, rather than being punitive, is intended to be restorative in nature. Intervention is intended to encourage and foster an atmosphere of compassion and support in which a pregnant student will feel strengthened in her decision to preserve her pregnancy and not feel compelled to seek an abortion....

All aspects of this intervention will be applied equally to both male and female students of this school who are involved in a pregnancy.

From a school in Tennessee

At some point in this process your school will need to determine what policies and in what degree of detail the policies will be communicated to parents and students. Schools frequently have fairly well-articulated policies and procedures that have been approved by their boards. They are usually compiled in a notebook that is available at board meetings for reference purposes. A summary of those policies and some of the procedures may be appropriate to communicate to school families or prospective families through a Parent/Student Handbook.

B. Attitudes of the Family. Earlier in this article, administrators clearly articulated that a redemptive discipline policy shouldn't even be attempted unless the behavior and attitudes of both the parents and the student are cooperative. Has the family been generally or strongly supportive of the school, its policies, the administration and staff? Administrators should be especially cautious if such support and cooperation hasn't already been demonstrated by the family prior to the moral issue arising.

How about the student? What kind of behavior track record does he or she have in the school and community? When confronted with the immoral situation, does the student acknowledge the problem or become sullen and defensive? Does the student indicate repentance regarding the behavior under discussion? Is the student willing to stop the immoral behavior and become accountable to others?

It should be made clear to the parents and student that from the outset this redemptive process will be conducted on a week-by-week basis (this is key and 6 requires some means of measuring)-that continued enrollment in the school is dependent upon the continued cooperation of and support by the parents and student during this discipline process. If those key attitudes falter anywhere along the line in subsequent weeks, the student will be asked to withdraw.

Note: If it does not appear that a student or his/her family will qualify for the redemptive discipline process, it is wise for the school to allow the family to withdraw the student instead of the school expelling the student. The parents can be told that if a withdrawal occurs, the reason for the withdrawal would not be mentioned in the permanent records. When uncooperative parents understand the parameters of the withdrawal offer, they usually accept it. Such an offer can help the school avoid a potential frivolous lawsuit.

C. Arrangement for Outside Counseling. One condition for continued enrollment should be the insistence that the student meet on a regular basis with his or her pastor and/or a professional Christian counselor for a period of time. Require the parents to provide the counselor with a written request and permission that periodic reports regarding the progress of the counseling be forwarded to the school. If pregnancy is involved, discussion needs to occur regarding whether adoption is a good option for the child since the student is neither mature enough for parenthood nor has the intact family that is necessary for good child development. However, adoption should not be a requirement of the redemptive discipline program.

D. Student Accountability. Schools that have redemptive policies usually involve the student in weekly meetings with a designated staff member. The student is assigned to journal on a daily basis about what Scripture passages are being read, what prayer emphasis is being experienced, and what he or she is learning from this disciplinary experience. These weekly meetings can be scheduled with a school counselor, an administrator, or a favorite teacher who is appropriately mature in age and Christian commitment. This component must be successful if the student will spiritually survive this experience and remain in the school. Along these same lines, the student should be required to attend church and youth group on a weekly basis. There must be some means whereby the church reports back to the school the student's church involvement and attitudes.

E. Arrangements for Continued Education. If a family and student are candidates for the redemptive discipline process, a decision must be made on the status of the student. Schools that responded to the ACSI survey about their use of the redemptive approach usually put the student on suspension and arrange for the student to be homeschooled. Usually a member of the faculty is appointed to act as liaison between the student and the rest of the faculty. Please consider paying this person by the hour for the extra work that is involved in the assignment. Parents could be billed for the extra expenses for their child to remain in school, in addition to the monthly tuition billing. All 7 financial arrangements should be agreed to before starting the redemptive discipline process. The extra faculty expense could be estimated or limited to a certain number of hours per week so the family will have some idea of its additional financial obligation.

Typically a pregnant girl stays home for a minimum of the next full semester or until the birth of the child, whichever is longer. The probationary period usually remains through the conclusion of that school year. If the father of the child is also a student, a decision must be made on what the appropriate length of time will be for him to stay out of school. Should it be commensurate in length with the pregnant student? There was not a consensus on this point among survey schools. If a boy or girl has been sexually active but no pregnancy has resulted, the student can be suspended for an appropriate period of time and then be required to follow the components of the discipline contract.

While a large majority of schools using the redemptive discipline approach counsel against allowing a pregnant girl to remain in school during the pregnancy, a few schools took a different view.

Is keeping a repentant pregnant girl home really the message of forgiveness that we want to give? It may be practical for her to stay home for physical reasons, but if we truly forgive her and restore her, why are there additional conditions? If we are a ministry of the church and the church would allow her to attend church functions, why not us? Does this mean that she cannot attend youth group? Her presence in the hall is a life lesson on the consequences of sin and testimony of the church loving their own in repentance and restoration. Are we more concerned about those who would condemn us for loving a sister in Christ, or about loving as Christ told us to love?

From an administrator in Maryland

As part of the student's continuing education and discipline, the school might want to consider requiring a certain number of hours of community service. Several schools required 40 hours of community service. The type of service must be acceptable to the school. Parents are usually asked for some input about the type of service and how it will be monitored.

F. Student Leadership and Activities Forfeited. Schools should consider to what extent student offenders must forfeit any student leadership positions and student activity participation. A strong majority of redemptive policies ended these privileges for the remainder of that school year.

G. Guidelines for Interaction with the Baby. Only a few of the sample policies that were received from Christian schools dealt with how the student's pregnancy is communicated at school. This is an important issue since no 8 school wants to popularize teenage pregnancy. What should be addressed by schools that follow a redemptive policy?

The following are quotes from sample policies sent to ACSI:

Readmission may be considered after the baby is born, but further conditions will also be imposed in order to make sure that having a child out of wedlock is not presented to our student body in a positive light. No celebration of any kind (such as a shower) will be sponsored by the school, and the mother will not be permitted to bring her baby to school or to school events.

From a school in Virginia After the birth of the child and while either of the parents is a student, the mother and/or the father must agree to the following stipulations:

a. The baby will not be brought onto the school campus during school hours.
b. The baby will not be brought to school-sponsored activities (i.e., concerts, athletic events, general meetings, etc.).

From a school in New Jersey

The following sample policy from a secular prep school in Ohio was forwarded to ACSI by a member school. It seems to be more comprehensive than the sample policies above. Again, some of the issues presented may represent procedural issues more than policy issues.

To avoid giving the appearance of countenancing student parenthood, the school will make no official public announcement regarding the birth or impending birth of a child to a student parent and prohibits such announcement from being made at the school by others. The school specifically:

a. Prohibits the student or his or her family members or the student's classmates acting on the student's behalf from distributing written announcements or from making public oral announcements of the impending birth, while on the school's property;

b. Prohibits the public bestowing of gifts or the publicizing or conducting of showers or other events designed to celebrate the birth, while on the school's property;

c. Prohibits the student parent or the student's family members or friends or classmates from bringing the child onto school property as long as the student is enrolled at the school.

H. Graduation Participation Decisions. The majority of the sample redemptive discipline policies that ACSI received did not allow a student who had become pregnant or who had fathered a child to participate in graduation 9 exercises. Several made that distinction on whether or not the mother was still pregnant at the time of the graduation ceremonies. Whatever your school decides is appropriate, it should be communicated as part of your policy or at least during discussions with the family early in the redemptive discipline process so it won't become a last-minute issue. Obviously all students should receive a diploma, whether publicly conveyed or not, if they have completed all the course work, fulfilled all other graduation requirements, and all financial commitments have been met by the family.

Here's how a Pennsylvania school administrator handles the graduation issue:

If it is during the senior year, we provide a diploma from our school, presented to the student in a private ceremony in my office with various teachers attending. These have been rather meaningful and impressive times of personal support to students and families who have found themselves in difficult situations.

I. Communication Regarding This Discipline Incident. When you first deal with this discipline incident, you will have to decide to what extent this is a public issue. If the situation has been relatively low-key, no communication with the rest of the parents and students may be necessary. However, in higher profile situations, some type of communication may be necessary to lessen the possible occurrence of rumors and unfair allegations of school favoritism or other such accusations. (See end of article for sample letter information.)

If the administration believes that communication is necessary to all students at the school and/or their parents, the content of that communication should be carefully prepared in advance and, if possible, reviewed by an attorney before communication is made, whether orally to students or in writing to parents. This review could cost a few dollars in attorney fees, but taking this extra step could save the school from potential litigation if the family undergoing the discipline process later becomes unhappy with the school or the discipline process and withdraws their child. They could try to sue the school later, alleging such things as defamation of character or invasion of privacy. Board members, school administration, and school staff should always be careful about what they communicate regarding any student's discipline in the school. In most cases, the less that is said, the better.

What does the school put in the student's records regarding discipline issues? In a nutshell-not much. Parents get really nervous about what kind of disciplinary information is placed in a student's permanent file. They are afraid that their child will be -branded‖ or perhaps lose out on certain opportunities if such disciplinary information is in the cumulative, or permanent, file. I personally believe that information related to disciplinary matters should be placed in a separate administrative file that remains with the school. Students who are caught selling drugs at school or who have physically attacked school 10 employees or other students with resulting injuries are exceptions to my statement about not recording much discipline information in permanent files. Under those circumstances, I believe that the next school needs to know that there are risk management issues with these transfer students. Perhaps this simple rule of thumb will help: If a public school wouldn't record the information in a permanent file, a private school probably shouldn't either.

Here is helpful advice from an administrator in Oregon:

Review with your school's legal counsel the laws and regulations that govern what is permissible in a student's permanent (cumulative) record file. If the information you have on the student is information that you would need to make a fair consideration about that student were he/she applying to your school, then you need a means of passing that information to the next school.

J. The School's Position Regarding Married Students. Very few schools had policies that spoke to this issue. However, the few that did all concluded that there was no place for married or cohabiting students in the school. Here is a sample from one school:

[Our school] is a coeducational institution that expects students to maintain high standards of moral purity and remain accountable to their parents or guardians. Married students are classified by law as adults and are no longer subject to the will of their parents. [Our school] deals only with students who are responsible to parents or guardians. Married students will not be enrolled and will be terminated from enrollment in this school should a student get married.

Cohabitation is an unacceptable lifestyle. A student living under such conditions will neither be accepted for enrollment nor be permitted to continue attending [our school].

The above policy governs both male and female students.

Sample Pregnancy Policy

Below is a sample pregnancy policy from a Christian school in Oregon. Notice how it deals with the broad issues but leaves the procedural issues to the administration. The various potential procedural issues or scenarios should be discussed in advance by the administration so policies don't have to be formulated under the pressure of a crisis situation.

Any student who becomes, or causes another individual to become, pregnant shall upon verification be suspended immediately until a decision by the administration is reached on conditions of continued enrollment or immediate expulsion. [Note: several schools also gave students the opportunity to withdraw instead-perhaps a better option.] 11 Extenuating circumstances such as rape will be considered on a case-bycase basis.

It is the policy of the board to deal with each pregnant student on an individual basis. To make a general policy to govern the spectrum of issues inherent in these cases would be ineffective. Each case will be judged on the basis of its own merit, and the following list shows some of the items that will be taken into consideration:

• Attitude (one of repentance vs. hostility)
• Support of the parents
• Support of the church
• Past and current records of behavior
• Discontinuance of sexual sin
• Christian testimony

Any disciplinary action must apply equally to the male and female to avoid discrimination concerns.

From a school in Oregon

In conclusion, I agree with this Arkansas administrator who wrote me:

This issue is very difficult and must be handled in a sensitive and confidential manner seasoned with wise counsel and much prayer. No two cases will be exactly alike, so the wisdom of Solomon will be needed. I believe that a written policy is indispensable. It must be thoughtfully considered before the problem arises to avoid a reactionary response. A well-written policy will give guidance to administrators while allowing them to use their godly judgment in a case-bycase basis.

____________________________
1. "Losing Our Promiscuity," Christianity Today, July 10, 2000, pp. 32-39.
2. "Facts of Life," American School Board Journal, August 1998, pp. 33-36.

 

LINK: https://www.acsi.org/legal-legislative-pages/legal-resources-landing-pages/4-student-issues-landing-page/41-student-supervision-and-discipline-issues/practicing-redemptive-discipline-parts-1%E2%80%933

Jay's picture

That being the case, this also becomes a submission to authority issue.

Horsefeathers.  It's about a justice issue.  How/why is it just to bar Maddee from walking in commencement?  Does HCA bar all of the students that have engaged in premarital sex from commencement?  I kind of doubt that they do.  So is it just because she was unlucky enough to get pregnant?  

Maddi's father is very open about their goal in all of this.  They are attacking the longstanding tradition of parochial schools that have a "morality code" where certain activities (such as premarital sex) are grounds for expulsion.  That's why the New York Times chose to run with this story.

A "repentant attitude" involves being ashamed of one's sinful activity (not putting yourself out there as a crusader) and graciously accepting any punishment that is meted out for it (not disputing a school's longstanding policies).  I have seen neither in this situation.

Wow, projecting much?  Isn't it possible that maybe the NYT is using this family for their own purposes?

I guess we should be glad that this isn't OT Israel, where the girl would have been summarily stoned to death when they found out. At least then we wouldn't have to debate whether or not it's appropriate for her to march in commencement.

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” -Luke 10:25-37

and

Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said.

“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” -Luke 7:36-50

and

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. - James 2:12-13

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Jim Racke's picture

This is Jim Racke...I am not the father but I copied the father's response from Facebook. I thought it would help in the discussion

Jim Racke

Bert Perry's picture

It's worth noting that Torah law would not punish the girl by stoning, as cases of seduction were dealt with by forcing the man to pay the bride-price whether or not he got to marry her.  In that regard, it's similar to what's described in 1 Cor. 6 & 7, and for that matter similar to the child support payments that fathers pay today.   

Again, what justification do we have for penalizing people more harshly than does the Bible?  Certainly expulsion from high school is NOT going to help that person "pay the bride price" of child support.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

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