HAGERSTOWN, Md. - A high school senior who attends a private Christian school in Maryland will not get a chance to attend her graduation ceremony because she is pregnant.
The Heritage Academy in Hagerstown said Maddi Runkles violated the school's code of conduct by having premarital sex. However, Runkles and her parents are struggling to understand how their conservative Christian high school can teach and promote being pro-life, but then turn their backs on one of their own.
"It's like a small school and it is such a big deal and I am the only one that is not going to be there that night to walk to the stage,” Runkles said.
She is one of 15 seniors in her class. But she will be the only one who will not be able to walk across the stage because she is now 25 weeks pregnant.
Heritage Academy is a K-12 non-denominational conservative Christian school. At the beginning of every school year, the high school students and their parents each sign a pledge.
"I signed it, which is like a typical thing every school year,” said Runkles.
The pledge reads in part:
“This application extends to my actions, such as protecting my body by abstaining from sexual immorality and from the use of alcohol tobacco, and illegal drugs…"
But Runkles’s father believes the pledge can be interpreted differently that would allow her to walk on graduation.
“The difference is consistency because we have had other students that have had serious infractions and they have walked in the past and they are allowed to walk this year,” said Scott Runkles.
Scott was president of the school’s board which tackles issues such as discipline. He resigned from the board once his daughter made the decision to inform the school she was pregnant.
The school's principal, Dave Hobbs, believes Heritage Academy made an exception by allowing Maddi to continue attending classes.
“I believe that every situation should be evaluated individually,” Hobbs said. “When it comes to a precedent, I don't believe that a precedent always guide decisions that are made in the future.”
The 18-year-old girl said she chose to tell school officials she was pregnant in an effort to not deceive her teachers and peers.
But the 4.0 GPA student was forced to step down from all her leadership positions at school and was kept home for two days during an unofficial suspension. She said she accepted her discipline. But by not allowing her to walk at graduation, she feels she is being shamed.
"You can't be pro-life, but then refuse to support the girl that keeps her baby,” she said.
The father of Maddi’s baby does not attend Heritage Academy.
Graduation is in 11 days and if Maddi is not allowed to walk, she said she will have a separate private ceremony and all her classmates will be invited.