HAGERSTOWN, Md. — A pregnant teenager has been prohibited from walking her graduation ceremony due to a violation of her Christian school’s code of conduct, which requires that students refrain from premarital sex.
Heritage Academy Principal Dave Hobbs says that he doesn’t believe the situation would be a good example for those in attendance and also doesn’t want to cause further issue for the teen.
“To have a girl who’s seven months pregnant walk in a graduation would be easily misunderstood, bringing even more pressure onto Maddi,” he told WHAG-TV in Hagerstown.
When students enroll at the academy, they must sign a pledge agreeing to honor Christ with their daily conduct, which includes abstaining from drugs, alcohol, tobacco and premarital sex. Students are rather encouraged to remain pure until marriage.
“We teach our students about the beauty of marriage and that sex inside of marriage is one of the things that is beautiful about marriage,” Hobbs told the Washington Post.
So when 18-year-old Maddi Runkles, the student council president, discovered in January that she was pregnant, she faced disciplinary action. Her father, who served on the Heritage Academy board, informed officials that his daughter was with child.
According to reports, Runkles was initially told that she would be suspended and would have to finish her senior year of studies at home. However, when her family appealed the decision, officials at the Christian school offered to allow Runkles to attend classes but to forgo walking the graduation ceremony. She will still receive her diploma.
“When Maddi chose to breach that Bible standard, a discipline plan had to be established,” Hobbs told reporters.
However, Runkles feels that she is being punished unfairly or disproportionately in comparison to other students, who have been allowed to walk their graduation despite violating the code of conduct in other ways. She opines that the school is setting a “horrible example of how pro-life Christians treat [pregnant] girls.”
Her boyfriend, who is older than Runkles, did not attend the academy.
“It’s because I’m pregnant and you can see the results of my mistake,” she told reporters. “There have been kids who have broken the student code and they could have hurt people or even gone to jail, and they only received an in-school suspension and they’re allowed to walk this year.”
Her father quit his position on the school board to protest the decision.
Organizations such as Students for Life have also condemned the school, asserting that keeping Runkles from walking the stage during her graduation harms the pro-life cause because it sends the message that abortion would be better.
“The school has shown students that it would be easier to choose abortion than to choose life,” said Executive Director Kristan Hawkins. “Because she chose to carry her child and courageously made that decision, she’s been punished this entire semester for being pregnant, and that’s just wrong.”
However, in a letter submitted to parents this week, Hobbs explained that Runkles is being disciplined “not because she is pregnant, but because she was immoral. … The best way to love her right now is to hold her accountable for her morality that began this situation.”
“The breach of a standard of abstinence is a grievous choice,” he also told the Washington Post. “Maddi made a grievous choice. We do believe in forgiveness, but forgiveness does not mean there’s no accountability.”
Runkles plans on taking online college courses through Liberty University and will give birth in September.
1 Thessalonians 4: 3-5 reads, “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication. That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor—not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God.”
Ephesians 5:3 also instructs, “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints.”