As It Happens

'It hurts,' says pregnant Maryland teen barred from attending her high school graduation

Maddi Runkles is graduating from high school next week, but she's not allowed to stand alongside her fellow students in her cap and gown to receive her diploma.
Maddi Runkles has been barred from attending her high school graduation ceremony because she is pregnant. (Jessica Klick)

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When 18-year-old Maddi Runkles found out in January that she was pregnant, she was terrified.

"​I had a lot of fear just because of my background, growing up in church and stuff like that and going to a Christian school, and I just knew what everyone was going to think about me and my family once they found out," the Maryland teenager told As It Happens host Carol Off.

That fear, she soon learned, was not unfounded.

Runkles said that her friends, family and church community have supported her and stood behind her, but the Heritage Academy in Hagerstown, Md., has not.

I was embarrassed, and I felt like I was just being shamed for being pregnant.-  Maddi   Runkles

"I was told that I was not allowed to come back to school, and I had to stay home and finish my classes, and I wasn't allowed to be seen on campus, and I could not attend any school event until after I had the baby," she said.

Runkles said she was expecting to be punished for breaking her school's student pledge to abstain from, among other things, "sexual immorality." But she was shocked to learn that she wouldn't be allowed to attend her graduation ceremony at the school where she got straight As and served as student council president. 

"I was embarrassed, and I felt like I was just being shamed for being pregnant," she said. "It hurts, because I feel like all of my academic accomplishments have just been kind of thrown away and I won't be acknowledged for everything I worked hard for."

The father is not a student at the school. 

Maddie Runkles says she decided to carry her baby to term after she learned she would have the full support of her family. (Maddi Runkles/Facebook )

The school's administrator, David R. Hobbs, has defended the decision in an open letter to parents.

"Maddi is being disciplined, not because she's pregnant, but because she was immoral," Hobbs wrote before quoting from the school's student pledge.

"A wise man told me that discipline is not the absence of love, but the application of love. We love Maddi Runkles. The best way to love her right now is to hold her accountable for her immorality that began this situation."

But Runkles — with the backing of the anti-abortion group Students For Life — says she wants to shine a light on the treatment of pregnant teens within the Christian community.

"I considered abortion right away, just because I knew what people would think about me, and I didn't want to be that girl, and I didn't want to risk my reputation," she said.

She ultimately decided against it, because she has the support of her family.

In his letter, school administrator Hobbs wrote: "Heritage is also pleased that she has chosen to not abort her son. However, her immorality is the original choice she made that began this situation."

Runkles said the school's actions send the signal to other girls in her situation that they will be punished if they choose not to end their pregnancies. 

Maddi Runkles, second from the right, is pictured with her brother Evan, left, and her parents, Sharon and Scott. (Jessica Klick)

"You can't be pro-life and refuse to support the girl who is going through an unplanned pregnancy because her situation doesn't fit your standards," she said.

"I think they're really missing out on a big opportunity to change the face of the way that Christian schools react to situations like this."

In the meantime, Runkle's parents are organizing a small private ceremony for her graduation day, and she's applying to colleges where she can take classes online.

"I'm still going to go after everything that I wanted to before this happened," Runkles said. "I'm just going to have to have a different path to get there."