- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 11, 2001

Virginia Military Institute's planned policy to dismiss cadets who become parents would be the harshest of its kind and in direct contrast with other government-supported military academies, which encourage their students to stay in school.
"We are not trying to penalize people here. We are trying to give them an opportunity to come back to the academy. They earned it," Air Force Academy spokesman Neil Talbott said. "They work hard to get here and they work hard to stay here."
The Air Force Academy's policy on pregnancy is typical and, Mr. Talbott said, pretty simple: Become pregnant, take leave for up to a year, come back and graduate. No specific policy exists for male students who impregnate someone; those cases are handled on an individual basis.
In May, VMI's Board of Visitors adopted a policy that calls for dismissal if a cadet becomes pregnant or fathers a child. The board also directed the academy's administration to come up with regulations to implement the policy.
In February, the school disclosed a junior cadet from Virginia was pregnant — less than four years after VMI first admitted women in 1997 to comply with a Supreme Court order.
Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union wrote to VMI asking it to drop the policy, which could be in place by this fall. The group argued the policy would violate a section of the federal Title IX law that bans discrimination against pregnant women at schools that receive federal funds.
VMI could be in jeopardy of losing more than $6 million in federal funding in student loans and direct aid if the policy is implemented, The Washington Times has reported.
Lt. Col. Charles J. Steenburgh, a VMI spokesman, said VMI is "still a unique institution with our own requirements." He also said it will make sure it does not violate any laws.
Another military academy, The Citadel, has a very lenient policy in dealing with pregnant cadets. Since it was forced to admit women in 1996, the school has had three of them.
School guidelines state that "a pregnant cadet [may] remain in school as long as she does not miss more than three weeks of school per semester."
Federally supported service academies treat pregnancy as a temporary medical disability, as does The Citadel.
The Air Force Academy's Mr. Talbott said pregnant students who wish to remain at the academy after they give birth are even given a military ID card and receive medical treatment while they are away from the academy.
Other service academies — the Naval Academy, the Military Academy at West Point and the Merchant Marine Academy — all have policies similar to that of the Air Force Academy, which allows the yearlong leave.
To return to school, however, a student has to give up a legal obligation to care for a child while they are in school, school spokesmen said. At all the schools, new students sign forms that they are not to enter if they are married, a parent or the legal guardian of a child.
"Trying to be a parent is very, very difficult, and the [academies] are a 24-hour program," Mr. Talbott said.

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