Addressing comments on Maddi Runkles
As Maddi’s story gained huge national traction, everyone seems to have an opinion of her, and consequently of Students for Life of America’s role in promoting her story. We’d like to address three of the most common questions and comments that we have received this week.
Why is SFLA highlighting this tiny Christian school?
This story is not about one school or even just about Maddi. This is a bigger issue than just one principal at one Christian school. Pregnancy discrimination occurs on public and private campuses nationwide. Each year, our Pregnant on Campus Initiative works with 200+ pregnant and parenting students at the high school, college, and post-graduate levels. We find that these students are frequently the victims of discrimination, harassment, and even public shaming. We encounter young women who are told that they can’t graduate in front of their peers. Others are kicked out of dorms, forced to take classes from home, dropped from financial aid, and even expelled. It’s shocking, and we should all be ashamed to have let this persist.
Abortion is a problem in the Christian community:
- According to the Guttmacher Institute’s 2014 “Abortion Patient Survey,” 54% of abortion patients identified themselves as Christians (Catholic, Protestant, or evangelical).
- According to Care Net’s 2015 “Study of Women who have had abortions and their views of church” (a study of 1,038 abortion patients), 70% claimed a Christian religious preference, and 43% were actively attending church at the time of the abortion.
While Students for Life of America is not a religious organization, we do believe that it’s important to hold both public and private schools accountable for the errors that they have made in response to this issue (i.e. pregnancy and parenting among students). Our president, Kristan Hawkins, wrote in Townhall two years ago about the problems of Christian universities and their treatment of pregnant women and how they often put up roadblocks when it comes to starting and encouraging pro-life groups. In December 2015, close to two dozen students at Christian schools wrote an open letter to their administrators addressing this very problem (with examples of why it needed to be addressed).
This isn’t a new issue, and we need to have a national conversation because, whether intentionally or unintentionally, some schools are promoting a culture where abortion is encouraged and pregnant women are shamed. If Christians can’t stop and see why this is a problem, then they inevitably push more girls away from the church and towards abortion.
Abby Johnson, former Planned Parenthood director, wrote on her Facebook page that she often saw the results of stories like Maddi’s walk through her doors:
This is the reason so many young women ran into our doors at Planned Parenthood. Maddi is going to live the consequences of her sexual activity. She is going to be a teenager in college with a baby. No doubt that will at times be a difficult road. And although we should never celebrate sin, we must recognize that her baby is not a sin. Her child must be celebrated.
On a positive note, there are faith-based schools of higher education who do a great job supporting pregnant and parenting students. We highlighted several in a list here.
Again, this is not simply about one tiny Christian school in Maryland. Our goal is to challenge the Christian and pro-life communities to reevaluate how each school, church, and community responds to unplanned, unwed pregnancy.
Why are people demanding lower standards of discipline and morality?
Neither Students for Life of America nor Maddi’s family are demanding lower standards of morality. No one is contesting that there was a rule, that the rule was broken, and that discipline was the appropriate response as a student of a private, Christian school. Private schools certainly have the right to set codes of conduct and to decide on fair and consistent disciplinary measures.
Maddi and her family willingly chose to go to the administration and address her pregnancy with them. They knew and accepted that discipline was appropriate for the violation of the school pledge. Our concern is the public way in which the school has set her as an example– by arranging a school assembly to announce her pregnancy to all her peers and parents and then by banning her from graduation. We believe that this is excessive and inconsistent with the school’s recent history of disciplinary decisions involving students breaking the same school pledge under difference circumstances.
By banning her and her alone, the administration and board collectively decided to make a public example of one student and has either intentionally or unintentionally communicated to the school community that pregnancy (not simply premarital sex) is a shame and should not be observed within our school community… In the past five years, no other student has been banned from walking at graduation for failing to abstain “from sexual immorality and from the use of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs.” From what we’ve learned thus far*, the last known cases of this happening occurred in the 70s and 80s. Currently, Maddi is the only student banned from walking at graduation. In a class of only 15 students, her absence will be obvious and can only be explained in that her immorality is visible (unlike the errs of past and present students).
Maddi was already unofficially suspended for two days and removed from leadership positions — which was standard and consistent with punishments that other students received for violating the same code under different conditions. This additional public announcement and graduation ban is well in excess and makes an example out of her pregnancy.
Why didn’t SFLA and Maddi’s family keep this private?
The principal of Heritage Academy, Dave Hobbs, has stated on the school website that this is a private issue:
The main reason I have been silent to this point is because in disciplinary situations, each Heritage family deserves confidentiality. The conduct of your children is not everyone’s business*. This perspective would have been the best way to deal with Maddi Runkles’ disciplinary situation. However, her family has chosen to make her behavior a public matter. [*Emphasis added.]
In our view, the school made this a public issue when they arranged a school assembly to announce Maddi’s pregnancy (to which parents of students were also invited). They then continued to make this public in enforcing the punishment of being banned from walking at graduation (which is over 4 months after the initial offense and notably a public event for the entire school community and their families). While the school has insisted on privacy for disciplinary situations, these decisions indicated that they did not respect the confidentiality of Maddi’s situation and that they were willing to make this everyone’s business.
Having made repeated efforts to handle this internally with no further progress, Maddi’s family believes that it is important to bring this issue to light so that no other pregnant student would have to go through what Maddi is going through. As noted in response to the first question, this issue is bigger than Heritage Academy. Some Christian schools are setting a poor example of what it means to forgive and love a pregnant student who has willingly admitted her wrongdoing, repented, and served her punishment. There has to be a better way to exact discipline without shaming and isolating those young women who courageously choose life.
Maddi’s dad, Scott, specifically pointed out that the family isn’t out to ‘get’ Heritage. He was on the board for five years and was most recently the school board president (before stepping down in light of the treatment of his daughter). Maddi has attended Heritage Academy for four years, and her brother is a freshman, although will now be transferring:
The first thing I want everyone to understand is that we are not out to make Heritage or its leadership look bad. I have dedicated more hours to Heritage over the last eight years than many of you could imagine. Heritage is a special place for me and my family despite what Maddi is experiencing.
Heritage is a good school that promotes a lot of the ideals that are important to me as a Christian and that is the reason we entrusted them with the education of our children through their most formidable years.
Hear her story
We encourage readers to take a moment to hear Maddi’s story and to “meet” her. We recommend that you take a moment to watch these interviews to address items that have not been explicitly covered in this post.
This post is published in response to concerns regarding our teen pregnancy story involving Maddi Runkles and Heritage Academy. Please also read Students for Life of America’s statement in response to the school. For further questions and comments, please email firstname.lastname@example.org so that we may clarify any points that were not sufficiently clear.