An 18-year-old has been removed from her position in student council and will be prevented from walking at her graduation because she is pregnant.
Maddi Runkles had a 4.0 at Heritage Academy, a small private Christian high school in Hagerstown, Maryland. She played on the soccer team and was president of student council. But, when she became pregnant and decided to keep her baby, the school administration decided to punish her.
Runkles will receive her high school diploma, but will be barred from participating in the school's June graduation ceremony. In a written statement on behalf of the school's board of directors, Principal David Hobbs writes that the girl's pregnancy is "an internal issue about which much prayer and discussion has taken place."
The family has decided to fight the decision, enlisting the help of Students for Life, a youth anti-abortion advocacy organization. The group says that Runkles should be commended for keeping her child.
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“She made the courageous decision to choose life, and she definitely should not be shamed,” said Students for Life President Kristan Hawkins. "There has got to be a way to treat a young woman who becomes pregnant in a graceful and loving way."
According to the organization's website, Runkles, like all other students, signed a code of conduct promising to avoid premarital sex, drugs and alcohol. After she became pregnant, Hobbs was going to announce that she broke the rules in front of the whole school. Not wanting the information to be spread from another person, Runkles offered to tell the high school herself.
"I stood there in tears while my dad read half of my prepared statement until I could compose myself and read the rest on my own, admitting my mistake but also saying that I chose life for my child," she said. "It was embarrassing but I wanted my peers and my friends to hear it from me. The public confession was hard enough but unfortunately I knew there would be more consequences that I would have to face."
Students for Life attempted to persuade the school board to reverse their decision, but to no success.
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Chairman of the Board of the Association of Christian Schools International Rick Kempton told The New York Times that Christian schools are placed in a difficult position when a student decides to go through with a pregnancy.
"[Runkles is] making the right choice," he said. "But you don’t want to create a celebration that makes other young ladies feel like, ‘Well, that seems like a pretty good option.’"
According to the Students for Life website, Runkles was initially not allowed to finish her senior year at Heritage, and would instead have to be homeschooled. However, the decision was reversed after students, activists and parents made an in-person appeal to the principal and school board directors.
Nonetheless, Runkles will still be barred from walking in her graduation. Students for Life hopes that this story will shed more light on the hypocritical ways women are treated within the Christian community.
"By treating Maddi without the grace mandated by our Christian faith and handing down a punishment that was inconsistent with how other students were punished they created a terrible example of what being a pro-life Christian is really supposed to embody," said Hawkins.