- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 4, 2001

Virginia Military Institute's planned policy to dismiss female or male cadets who become parents while attending the state-supported academy could cost the school and its students millions in federal dollars, Justice Department sources said yesterday.
Justice sources said the policy would "clearly" violate a provision in the federal Title IX law that prohibits sex discrimination at colleges and universities and other educational facilities that receive federal funds, including student financial aid.
VMI had a budget of $42.5 million last year and in 1999 received $638,400 in federal funds, according to the academy's official and alumni Web sites.
The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia reported that more than 53 percent of VMI's 1,300 students received more than $5.4 million in federal student aid. The average federal package was $7,350 during the 1999-2000 school year.
Those funds would be in jeopardy if the policy is implemented, a Justice source said.
One source said, however, that federal funds won't be cut off any time soon, at least while the Justice Department is reviewing the policy. The academy is still under Justice supervision as part of a lawsuit that ended VMI's all-male admissions policy in 1997.
"We are obviously an interested party when it comes to the VMI case and anything having to with it," said Dan Nelson, a spokesman for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.
Mr. Nelson said he could not comment further because the department had "only received a copy of the policy [Monday] and are reviewing it."
VMI's Board of Visitors approved the policy, which would dismiss a female cadet for becoming pregnant or a male cadet for impregnating a woman on or off campus, in May. The school's administration is still working on the specific regulations, which are supposed to be in place by August before the cadets return.
VMI spokesman Lt. Col. Charles J. Steenburgh said yesterday the academy is working hard "to ensure all legal and constitutional requirements are met."
But Justice sources say it violates Title IX and point to the provision that states: "A recipient must not exclude any student from participating in its educational program or activity, including extracurricular activities, based on the student's pregnancy, childbirth, false pregnancy, termination of pregnancy, or recovery from such termination, unless the student voluntarily requests to be excluded from the program or activity and placed in a separate portion of the program."
The national American Civil Liberties Union and its Virginia chapter sent a letter to VMI yesterday hinting at a lawsuit if the school did not retract the policy, after The Washington Times informed them of the proposal on Monday.
The letter was signed by Kent Willis, executive director of the Virginia chapter, and Leonora Lapidus, director of the ACLU's Women's Rights Project. Mr. Willis said in order to file a lawsuit, the ACLU would need to represent a student affected by the policy.
In its letter, the ACLU refers to a Title IX provision banning discrimination, which states a school "shall treat pregnancy … as a justification for a leave of absence for so long a period of time as is deemed medically necessary … at the conclusion of which the student shall be reinstated to the status which she held when the leave began."
VMI began admitting women in 1997 after the Supreme Court ruled that women must be accepted at the academy in Lexington, about an hour's drive southwest of Charlottesville.
In February, VMI disclosed that a female cadet from Virginia was pregnant and is expected to give birth this month. Neither she nor any other cadet who is already a parent would be affected by the new policy, school officials said.
Randy Davis, a spokesman with the Virginia attorney general's office, said lawyers for the office have been working with VMI in crafting both the policy and the regulations.
"We're going to be sure it meets constitutional muster," Mr. Davis said yesterday.
Acting Attorney General Randolph A. Beales would be responsible for defending VMI in any lawsuits.
If the policy stands, it would be the toughest of its kind among military academies, including The Citadel and the federally supported service academies.
Like the ACLU, Marcia Greenberger, president of the National Women's Law Center, said yesterday her group would also likely file suit if VMI implements the policy.
"The most important thing for them to do at this stage is to reconsider," Ms. Greenberger said. "[The policy] is clearly in direct contradiction with Title IX and its explicit protections against discrimination on the basis of pregnancy.

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