- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 15, 2002

RICHMOND A women's legal group asked Virginia Military Institute yesterday to withdraw its policy that calls for removing married or pregnant students from the corps of cadets.
"At this stage, we are asking them to rescind the policy that they have adopted and to adopt a policy that complies with the law," said Jocelyn Samuels, vice president and director of education of the Washington-based National Women's Law Center.
Effective today, cadets who are married, who become pregnant or who cause a pregnancy must leave the state-supported school. VMI says the measure is not punitive; cadets who violate the policy will be expected to resign or will be removed from the corps for "failure of eligibility."
The policy applies to pregnant women and any man who impregnates a woman. But critics said the ban was unconstitutional and clearly violates federal law, which forbids discrimination against pregnant women in academic programs. The marriage ban was already in effect, but was enforced on a "don't ask, don't tell" basis.
In a letter sent yesterday to VMI Superintendent Josiah Bunting III, Miss Samuels said the new policy discriminates against female students, treating them differently than males.
"There is substantial evidence that VMI adopted its policy precisely as a means to exclude pregnant female cadets," the letter said. By contrast, the policy has no mechanism for discovering or confirming that male cadets have become parents, the letter said.
The letter cited instances in which VMI chose not to enforce its existing policy prohibiting cadets from marrying and refused to penalize cadets who fathered children.
A cadet would have to get pregnant to challenge VMI's policy in court, Miss Samuels said. Instead, if VMI does not revise its policy, Miss Samuels said her group could file an administrative complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.
Several other military schools treat pregnancy as a medical condition, allowing students to return after taking a leave of absence.
At The Citadel, which began admitting women in 1996, pregnancy is considered a temporary disability. Once pregnant, the cadet can choose to remain in school as long as she doesn't miss more than three weeks per semester, and the school's doctor will determine at what point the woman goes on temporary disability status, said Charlene Gunnells, a spokeswoman for the Charleston, S.C., school.
Cadets also may drop out and re-enroll at The Citadel after the baby is born, but they cannot be the child's primary caregiver.
Miss Gunnells said that in the past five years she knew of one cadet who "left school, had her child, then came back. She missed one semester of school and she's still here."
At the U.S. Naval Academy, midshipmen can choose to resign or take a leave of absence if they become pregnant.
"As soon as the pregnancy tests come back positive, they're asked to decide," said academy spokeswoman Shayne Sewell.
"They're not allowed to continue as students once it is known that they are pregnant."
Those who go on leave are eligible to return to midshipman status by applying for readmission within one year of their departure, Miss Sewell said.
At the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., cadets who become pregnant can resign, take up to a year of unpaid medical leave or remain in the Corps of Cadets until the brigade surgeon places her on medical leave when she is unable to perform her duties.
In its oath of allegiance, West Point requires cadets to state that they are unmarried and will not be married when they are in school. They also must not have custody of a child or be responsible for supporting a child or former spouse.
In 1998, two senior cadets who married and had a baby together avoided expulsion from West Point by getting an annulment.
The no-marriage rule applies at all of the nation's service academies.

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