This January 1st, some moms in California had something to celebrate: a new law giving them the right to breastfeed or pump while attending public schools (up to grade 12).
With by far the highest number of births in any state (one in every eight babies born in the United States), and a nearly 94% breastfeeding initiation rate, this new law will provide a welcome new set of rights for many moms!
While state and federal law give most moms the right to accommodations to pump at work, these laws* don't extend the same rights to students. And this denies important accommodations to many student moms. By one state’s estimate, nearly twice as many high school aged girls give birth every year as public school teachers (many of whom are guaranteed rights to pumping accommodations under state and federal laws).
Signed by Governor Jerry Brown this fall, the new law (AB 302 by Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia) took effect on January 1st. It requires all public schools to provide reasonable accommodations to nursing moms, including access to a private and secure room (other than a restroom) with a power source to express milk or to breastfeed a child, a reasonable amount of time to express milk or breastfeed, and a place to store expressed milk. The law prohibits students from incurring academic penalties as a result of their use of the accommodations, and requires that students be provided the opportunity to make up any missed work. It also includes an enforcement mechanism, by authorizing complaints about violations of the law to be filed using a standard complaint process used by all schools. To minimize cost, the law also allows schools to use existing employee lactation facilities for this purpose.
This law was prompted by concern that lack of accommodations for breastfeeding students may have detrimental effects on their education. It's long been the case that many teen mothers drop out of high school (70% by one estimate), and one contributing factor may be the lack of accommodations for mothers who breastfeed. In a 2015 report titled, “Breaking Down Barriers for California’s Pregnant and Parenting Students,” the American Civil Liberties Union found:
Failure to provide adequate lactation accommodations at one school site may result in a student’s decision to forego breastfeeding altogether or enroll in a school site exclusively based on the ability to pump or breastfeed during school hours. During focus group discussions, some pregnant and parenting students shared that school administrators discouraged them from expressing breast milk at school. Two out of the nine pregnant and parenting students interviewed said that their decision to leave regular school was based entirely on their inability to breastfeed or pump milk.
These new protections follow on a recent California law which ensures that California employees can't be fired for breastfeeding.
It's a new year's present to California moms, and we hope the idea catches on in other states!
*Virginia provides students the right to pump at school.