Teen Mother Denied Membership in Honor Society

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An Ohio teenager who was denied induction to the National Honor Society because she is an unmarried mother is challenging the decision.

A faculty selection committee at Xenia High School in Xenia, Ohio, invited senior Amanda Lemon to join the school's NHS chapter last month but revoked the offer when it discovered the 18-year-old has a daughter.

District Superintendent James A. Smith said the committee had a right to deny Ms. Lemon's selection and followed the guidelines established by the National Honor Society. The society allows schools to set their own criteria for selection in four areas: character, leadership, service, and scholastic achievement.

"It is unfortunate, but Ms. Lemon's character was a sticking point," Mr. Smith said.

But Ms. Lemon says the decision violates Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination because of parenthood in educational programs that receive federal aid. She filed a grievance with the school last week.

"They can't judge character based on one thing--because of my child," Ms. Lemon, who has a 3.8 grade point average, said last week in an interview. "They should have done more to learn about my character."

But Mr. Smith emphasized that character is not the sole basis for selection; all four areas are weighed equally.

"Pregnancy is a rational reason for nonselection--it gives evidence of sexual activity," he said. Both are considered a violation of the selection criteria that Xenia officials adopted when the 5,300-student district chartered its society chapter in 1952.

Community Standards

The National Honor Society, which was created in 1921 by the National Association of Secondary School Principals, notes in its handbook that "special care would seem to be needed in evaluating character. Pregnancy in particular cannot be the basis for automatic rejection under recent judicial interpretations of federal law."

But David Cordts, the associate director of the department of student activities at the Reston, Va.-based NASSP, said chapters can set their own standards as long as they are applied consistently.

Ms. Lemon is not the first Xenia student to be denied membership in the school's honor society because of sexual activity, Superintendent Smith said, adding that both boys and girls had been affected by the rule.

Ms. Lemon said she does not expect school administrators to budge on her acceptance to the honor society, but hopes the incident will prompt other students who are refused membership to oppose the rule.

"This is an honor I deserve," she said. "It's hurtful because I have worked so hard." But, she added, "maybe this will make a difference for a future change."

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