Nursing in Public Discrimination

My Journey

Synopsis

1234256_10200832940126030_1725555884_nIn a weekly, private meeting with our homeschool teacher through the Poway Unified School District (PUSD), I began breastfeeding my baby when the teacher told me that it was inappropriate. I educated her as to the law in CA, which states that a woman may breastfeed her baby anywhere she and her baby are allowed to be.

I then received a phone call informing me that the official position the district would be taking is that because of my breastfeeding status, my 7 year old son would be excluded from the monthly group presentation class, and would instead have to give his presentations to the teacher in private, depriving him of the experience of presenting in front of a group (which was the point of the class).

I sent a letter to the district, informing them of the law and requesting only that they remedy the situation by confirming a policy in accordance with the law – that mothers are allowed to breastfeed on PUSD campuses. After receiving no response, the San Diego Nursing in Public Task Force sent in a letter on my behalf.

I was then informed that the remaining group presentation classes were cancelled.

Then the San Diego Nursing in Public Task Force was sent a letter from the district stating that they were standing by their position.

At that point I filed a complaint of sex discrimination with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), who eventually sent me a letter stating that unless I could produce evidence that the remaining classes were cancelled because of me, the case would be dismissed (which is irrelevant, as the discrimination took place the moment they told me my son was excluded from the presentation class while non-breastfeeding families were included).

We then scheduled a nurse-in and sent a press release to the media. After the story received coverage, the District released a statement, saying that they balance following the law (since when is following the law optional?) with the safety of their students (breastfeeding is unsafe for bystanders?!).

The nurse-in was held, with the objective of encouraging the District to explicitely create and publicly state a policy in accordance with CA Civ Code 43.3. The event was covered by numerous media outlets. The District Superintendent came out and stated that they will continue to allow individual teachers to decide whether or not they want to follow the law or discriminate against breastfeeding families.

Media Coverage

The Full Story

April 1, 2013
The Incident

My son is home schooled through our district. Once a week we meet with a district teacher for 30 minutes in a homeschool classroom. Once a month all of the families meet and each child takes a turn giving a presentation. During my homeschool teacher meeting my baby was having a tough time and requiring all of my attention, until he wanted to breastfeed, at which point I was again able to sit quietly at the table and work with my son’s teacher on his homeschool curriculum. I was sitting around a table with all 3 boys and the teacher, who was going over my son’s work with him.

“Do you know what a whirlpool is? Where would you find a rudder? Do you know what a nursing cover is?”

“What?”

“A nursing cover. It’s a cover that drapes over you and your baby while you nurse.”

“Yes.”

“Can you use one. (Intentionally using a period here, as it wasn’t phrased as a question.)”

“No. He won’t use one.”

“Well I’m gonna need you to use one. There are 8th grade boys here at this school. Do you think that’s appropriate? Around 8th grade boys?”

“Well, breastfeeding in public is actually a legally protected right. A woman has the legal right to breastfeed wherever she and her baby are allowed to be present and a cover is not required.
I think it is appropriate for 8th grade boys to be in a room where a baby is being fed the normal way babies eat.”

“So you are not willing to comply with my request?”

“No.”

In the middle of her conversation with my son about vocabulary, she told me I needed to use a cover while breastfeeding. I politely informed her that breastfeeding in public is actually a legally protected right and that I had the legal right to breastfeed wherever my child and I are permitted to be present. She went on to question if I felt breastfeeding in the presence of middle school aged boys was appropriate. To which I responded that feeding a baby the normal way that babies eat is appropriate, and anyone, including middle school boys, would benefit from the learning opportunity, if anything (though my intention is solely to feed my baby).

April 8, 2013
Phone call from district

I then received a phone call from the teacher informing me that she consulted with her director and the position they would be taking is that if I am not willing to use a cover and I intend on breastfeeding my baby, my son will be excluded from the presentation class and give his presentation to his teacher in the regular private meeting. In this case, separate is not equal. This would deny him the valuable experience of presenting in front of a group of peers. I responded by saying that I had not intended on bringing his siblings to the presentation class. However, as a homeschooling, full-time mother of 3, I cannot guarantee that he would never need to be present. And if I tried to put a blanket over the head of my baby, he would have a panic attack, creating a much bigger scene, disrupting the class and showing far more skin than a cooperative breastfeeder ever would. Could a mother quietly breastfeeding her baby in the back of a classroom cause a couple stares or even some pointing from people who are unfamiliar? Possibly, in the same way that perhaps someone with a disability or other difference might elicit. But the solution would not be to discriminate against the person.The problem is that this is a clear case of discrimination for something for which the law is present and clear:

Right to Breastfeed in Public (1997) 
Section 43.3 of the Civil Code
“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a mother may breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, except the private home or residence of another, where the mother and the child are otherwise authorized to be present.”

April 10, 2013
Sent a letter to the district

At this point, I invited the director to consult the necessary people within the District, reconsider their position, and then render an official position on this matter (as the district is who would be named in the complaint).

It read:

During my homeschool teacher meeting my baby was having a tough time and requiring all of my attention, until he wanted to breastfeed, at which point I was again able to sit quietly at the table and work with my son’s teacher on his homeschool curriculum.

In the middle of her conversation with my son about vocabulary, she told me I needed to use a cover while breastfeeding. I politely informed her that breastfeeding in public is actually a legally protected right and that I had the legal right to breastfeed wherever my child and I are permitted to be present. She went on to question if I felt breastfeeding in the presence of middle school aged boys was appropriate. To which I responded that feeding a baby the normal way that babies eat is appropriate, and anyone, including middle school boys, would benefit from the learning opportunity, if anything (though my intention is solely to feed my baby).

I would like to add that I have been very happy with her as a homeschool teacher and think she does a fantastic job at facilitating our homeschool experience (up until/outside of this experience/issue).

I recently received a phone call from her informing me that she consulted with her director and the position you would be taking is that if I am not willing to use a cover and I intend on breastfeeding my baby, my son will be excluded from the presentation class and give his presentation to his teacher in the regular private meeting. In this case, separate is not equal. This would deny him the valuable experience of presenting in front of a group of peers. I responded by saying that I had not intended on bringing his siblings to the presentation class. However, as a homeschooling, full-time mother of 3, I cannot guarantee that he would never need to be present. And if I tried to put a blanket over the head of my baby, he would have a panic attack, creating a much bigger scene, disrupting the class and showing far more skin than a cooperative breastfeeder ever would. Could a mother quietly breastfeeding her baby in the back of a classroom cause a couple stares or even some pointing from people who are unfamiliar? Possibly, in the same way that perhaps someone with a disability or other difference might elicit. But the solution would not be to discriminate against the person.

The problem is that this is a clear case of discrimination for something for which the law is present and clear:

Right to Breastfeed in Public (1997)
Section 43.3 of the Civil Code

“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a mother may breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, except the private home or residence of another, where the mother and the child are otherwise authorized to be present.” 

At this point, I invite you to consult the necessary people within the Poway Unified School District, reconsider your position, and then render an official position on this matter (as the district is who would be named in the complaint).

It is my assumption that this is merely a case of a lack of familiarity with the law and that now that it has been brought to your attention, you will educate your teaching staff and we can all proceed in meeting our goals: the education of the children for which we are responsible. 

Rachel Rainbolt, M.A.
It was my optimistic and generous assumption that this was merely a case of a lack of familiarity with the law and that now that it had been brought to their attention, they would educate their teaching staff and we could all proceed in meeting our goals: the education of the children for which we are responsible.

May 14, 2013
San Diego Nursing in Public Task Force sends the district a letter on my behalf

After receiving no response from the district, I elicited the assistance of the San Diego Nursing in Public Task Force, who sent in a letter on my behalf reiterating the law and requesting an official policy on behalf of the district in support of the law and training for all teachers and staff (which would be provided by the San Diego Nursing in Public Task Force or the San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition).

I was told that the remaining meetings were cancelled.

May 29, 2013
District Response

We (actually, it was sent only to the San Diego Nursing in Public Task Force) then received a letter from the District denying any wrongdoing and standing by their original position.

The letter reads:

I received your letter of May  14, 2013 regarding Rachel Rainbolt. Ms. Rainbolt certainly can exercise her right to California Civil Code, section 43.3. Ms. Rainbolt never had her rights infringed upon. In this case, the teacher was doing her best to proactively balance and manage a sensitive situation in a learning environment where middle school age students would be present. It is my understanding as well that there are no other similar meetings with students scheduled. The month of May is filled with academic testing for students and June takes us quickly into promotional and graduational activities. 

I appreciate your offer to assist in training and or writing of policy but I do feel we are properly situated. I can assist the principal and the teacher in their awareness of the law should there be a need to do so. If there are other problems in the future, please do not hesitate to contact me for assistance.

May 29, 2013
Filed a Complaint

I officially filed an Unruh legal complaint of sex discrimination with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. The case was investigated.

September 10, 2013
Received a letter from DFEH

If I cannot provide evidence that the remaining group presentation classes were cancelled because of me, then the case will be closed.

September 17, 2013
News segment airs
 announcing the nurse-in and explaining the nursing in public discrimination situation behind it, to be held on September 25, 2013.

September 18, 2013
District Statement

On Tuesday, September 17, 2013, a 10News broadcast reported on a local mother’s plans to hold a public ‘nurse in’ outside the Poway Unified School District’s district office on Wednesday, September 25.

The District abides by Civil Code and Education Code in balancing the rights of mothers to publically breast feed with our responsibility to provide a classroom environment that is safe and supportive of all students’ learning.

PUSD respects the right for a peaceful demonstration.

September 20, 2013
Submitted response to DFEH affirming the points of discrimination and irrelevance of the cancellation of the remaining classes.

September 23, 2013
Press release issued by San Diego Nursing in Public Task Force

NURSE-IN AT POWAY UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT

WHO: over 100 breastfeeding mothers and breastfeeding supporters

WHAT: A nurse-in (breastfeeding demonstration)

WHEN: Wednesday, September 25th, from 7:30am – 10am

WHERE: Poway Unified School District offices (15250 Avenue of Sciences, San Diego, CA 92128)

WHY: In support of a local mother, Rachel Rainbolt, who was discriminated against for breastfeeding her child at a school meeting.

In April, 2013, Rachel Rainbolt was told by a district employee that her 7-year old son would not be able to participate in a school-sponsored presentation if she intended to breastfeed her baby at the event.

Multiple attempts to remedy the situation have been unsuccessful. The District continues to state that while Mrs. Rainbolt’s rights have not been infringed upon, she must abide by their standards regardless of CA civil code 43.3, which states that she has a right to breastfeed in public.

September 25, 2013
Nurse-In

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A nurse-in was held in front of thePoway Unified School District office, attended by a large group of breastfeeding supporters and media outlets (Fox 5, CW 6, NBC 7, CBS 8, KUSI 9, ABC 10, Univision, U-T) with the goal of encouraging PUSD to explicitely create and publicly state a policy of unconditional acceptance of breastfeeding, in accordance with the law.

District Statement

Two hours into the nurse-in, the District Superintendent came outside to release a statement:

As a school district, we are responsible for all students regarding their rights and responsibilities as citizens. Today is evidence of a group of individuals exercising these rights.

A concern was expressed by a parent and she took the appropriate steps of reporting her concern to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). As of today, our District has not received an official decision by DFEH.

Despite reports to the contrary, no student was punished or denied access to any educational experience in this situation. This matter brings to light the important decisions that our teachers are required to make every day to ensure that all students are provided a productive and engaging learning environment in their classroom. Our number one priority is providing quality learning for every child. For these reasons, we appreciate that today’s gathering is taking place at our District Office, rather than on a school campus.

The Board of Education has adopted policies and procedures to ensure that the District operates in compliance with the laws of the State of California and the federal government. These policies and procedures are available on our website at http://www.powayusd.com/board/TOC.shtml.

As the Superintendent stood before me (in front of cameras), he stated that the District supports the law, BUT that it is up to each individual teacher whether or not they choose to allow women to breastfeed on district properties.

My Rebuttal to District Statements1268139_10201172077837386_873871036_o

In statements made by the District and its Superintendent, they “…balance following the law with…” and “…support the law but…”

Since when is following the law optional?! It was my understanding that law abiding is mandatory.

For example, can you imagine if I said, “I balance following the laws against stealing with my desire for things” and “I support the laws against stealing but there are things I want and can’t afford.”? “So while I understand the laws against stealing, I’m going to decide on a case-by-case basis when I am in any given store whether or not I want to follow the law or steal.”

In statements made by the District, they assert that breastfeeding is a “sensitive situation” that needs to be “managed” by a teacher.

Breastfeeding is normal and appropriate in the course of everyday life. It is the human way to feed a baby. It is mundane and unremarkable. It requires no action or intervention on the part of a teacher. In fact, the thesis of the spirit of the law is that people do nothing at all in the presence of a breastfeeding woman. Here’s the kicker: a breastfeeding mother needs to be treated just like a bottle-feeding mother, just like any other human caring for a baby.

In statements made by the District, they warn that breastfeeding creates an environment that is not “safe” for students.

I know of no research that has ever found a physical danger for bystanders in the presence of breastfeeding. How does breastfeeding on a school campus create an environment that is unsafe? Have you ever known someone who was taken down by a rogue spray? I think not.

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While not at all related to safety, what about the psychological trauma that could be suffered as a result of the awkward, complicated, in depth, dangerous conversation that could arise when a child witnesses breastfeeding in public?

Child: What’s she doing?
Adult: Feeding her baby.

The end.

Extra material for an older or especially inquisitive, and in turn vulnerable child, to the dangers of witnessing breastfeeding:

Parent: Babies drink milk from their mother’s breasts.

Would you ban a pregnant woman from entering a school campus because her bump is not camouflaged? What if the children go home and ask their parents how that baby got there and how it is going to get out (gasp!)? Unfortunately, fear of learning is not a legal justification for discrimination.

In statements made by the District and its Superintendent, each individual teacher gets to decide if s/he wants to discriminate against a breastfeeding family or abide by the law.

It is the teacher’s responsibility to teach students, not to interpret law in creating district policy. I have yet to hear a teacher proclaim, “You know what would really support me in meeting my teaching goals? Having the additional responsibilities of a district administrator.

In a statement released by the District, they claim, “…no student was punished or denied access to any educational experience in this situation.”

I was called by my teacher and told that her supervisors decided that the official position of the District would be that if I could not guarantee that I would never breastfeed my baby during the class, my 7 year old would not be permitted to attend the state-sponsored group presentation class and would instead have to give his presentations in private, denying him the experience that was the point of the class – presenting in front of a group, where non-breastfeeding families were included. In other words, due to my breastfeeding status, my older son was denied access to an educational experience. Even if I squint my eyes and tilt my head way to the side, I still can’t see how the District could state that without their pants catching on fire.

The District Superintendent stated, “We need to support our teachers.”

This is a non-statement. It is a non-statement (a favorite of politicians among the great 15946_651883234846031_19053132_ncompany of “I am pro-America” or “I believe in freedom”) in that we (the opposing side) also believe we need to support our teachers. This statement is irrelevant in this conversation, unless you take it to refer more specifically to, “We need to support the one teacher who takes personal offense to breastfeeding by discriminating against the family, despite the existing law protecting the student’s families’ civil rights.” In that case, we obviously disagree.

When pushed by a reporter as to why he was unwilling to create a guideline if he intended on following the law, the Superintendent replied, “When we try to write guidelines for every law the state passes, we’re going down a slippery slope.”

If this situation does not warrant a guideline in your book, I have to know, what would? When a teacher and her supervisors have discriminated against a family you serve, a legal complaint of discrimination has been filed against your district, and a large group of advocates and media are standing outside your office door elucidating the need for the guideline (and asking ONLY for a guideline to be created), then I would say that, without a shadow of a doubt, a guideline is necessary. Exactly what slope are you afraid you will slip down? Are you afraid you will find yourself respectfully addressing discrimination concerns from future families or simply following laws all over the place with reckless abandon? Oh my – no!

Which leads us back to the beginning with we “…balance following the law with…” and “…support the law but…” each individual teacher gets to decide if s/he wants to discriminate against a breastfeeding family or abide by the law.

There is no slippery slope here. The District is completely explicit as to the real reason they are unwilling to create a policy in accordance with the law – because they don’t intend on following it.

 More Coverage

U-T San Diego

 Savage Minds

Wet Paint

Examiner

KMVT Idaho

Paa.la

CNN iReport

The Sacramento Bee

Best for Babes

Tula Baby Carrier

Links

Nurse-In
Facebook Event Page

San Diego Nursing in Public Task Force

Nursing in Public Article

Breastfeeding in Public Video

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