By Alexa Vaughn
The Seattle Times.
Sandra Lantz was about four months away from graduation when high school in Bothell, Wash., when the shool’s principal and vice principal took her aside.
Despite her good grades, a promising intellect and extracurricular zeal, they wanted her six-months-pregnant belly out of sight immediately. It was Feb. 4, 1963. A high-school diploma was out of the question.
“I asked them if I could at least stay until Feb. 14, my birthday and Valentine’s Day, and they said absolutely not,” said Sandra. “They treated me like I had a disease, and they didn’t want anyone else to catch it.”
Ashamed, the 17-year-old crept out the back door after disenrolling with a counselor and walked five miles home by herself, her future uncertain.
With the support of her friends and family, however, Sandra accomplished more than those two administrators ever thought she would.
She went to Seattle’s Edison Technical School that fall to get the two credits she still needed for a high-school diploma, then earned a bachelor’s degree from Western Washington University.
She also earned two master’s degrees, and became a clinical social worker, author and an editor for Pacific Northwest literary journal Cirque.
She lives in Anchorage, Alaska, with a husband who made her Sandra Kleven at 22, and raised her firstborn, Michael, as his own.
Together, they had three more children.
Still, it had always bothered Lynda Humphrey, an old friend and Class of ’63 classmate, that Sandra was exiled from high school so abruptly. Humphrey wanted to do something.
Initially, she wanted Sandra’s perseverance and achievements celebrated by getting her name on the School District’s Wall of Honor at a local stadium in Bothell.
But there was one thing Sandra needed to be eligible, though, and she didn’t have it.
“She said, “Remember, Lynda, I never got a diploma from Bothell High,'” Humphrey recalled. “And I just felt this clunk in my stomach.”
Although Sandra had always been welcomed to class reunions, she technically wasn’t a member of the close-knit BHS Class of ’63.
That set Humphrey on a mission: giving her friend a real Bothell High School diploma with the graduation ceremony she should have had more than a half-century ago.
On a recent Saturday, Humphrey’s work was done, as she watched School District Superintendent Larry Francois hand Sandra a legal, not honorary, Class of ’63 diploma.
“She found all these people were quite excited to do it,” Sandra said of her friend. “It was tremendous to see this groundswell of support.”
But first, Humphrey had to find transcripts, have lawyers and education leaders review the diploma request, ask the school district to research what the 1963 graduation requirements were, and organize a ceremony for their 51st reunion.
She never wanted Sandra to come to another reunion feeling she wasn’t an official part of the Class of ’63 family.
For the most part, pregnant girls in school today can find a lot more support than Sandra did. Years later and hundreds of miles away from Bothell in Alaska, the contrast between past and present brings her to tears at times.
“I was in an alternative school in Wasilla,(Alaska), and they on-site day care, a parade of the students’ children in their Halloween gear and, I’m not that emotional usually, but I just sat there blinking back tears,” said Sandra, who’s passionate about making sure teens have the support they need to finish high school no matter what. “In my day, the impulse of schools was to do the opposite of that.”
Fortunately, Sandra had open-minded family, friends and college professors who helped her succeed. But the judgment and rejection of the administrators still cut deep.
BHS counselors did something similar for her eventual husband, Richard Kleven, who also left the school without a diploma.
Because they couldn’t see him doing much else in life, counselors recommended the Army. Discouraged, he dropped out and enlisted at age 17.
“When school administrators tell you, ‘You are less than others,’ you don’t get over that quickly,” Sandra said recently while visiting Humphrey’s home. “It had been impressed upon me that a high-school diploma was essential, so I was wounded when they took that away from me.”
Humphrey said she remembered that when she was principal of an elementary school in Alderwood Manor, Wash.
“What you’re told at school has a huge influence on you, second only to what your parents might say,” Humphrey said.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), there are still plenty of school leaders nationwide who inadvertently, if not overtly, encourage pregnant teens to drop out.
In 2011, the ACLU noted the problem at some Seattle-area schools, but did not list which ones it said needed changes in their approach.
ACLU of Washington State spokesman Doug Honig said discrimination against pregnant teens often happens when schools aren’t flexible enough for them, or when administrators or teachers say discouraging things about the future of their education.
“There can be a lack of accommodation for doctor’s appointments, opportunities to make up school work, things that have the effect of driving the kid out of school,” Honig said.
Honig says pregnant students, under Title IX, have the right to stay in their original classes or school, participate in any extracurricular activity they choose, and have pregnancy-related absences excused.
Francois, the current superintendent, says his district has several options for pregnant students that include staying in the same school, using independent study or going to the district’s alternative school, Secondary Academy for Success (SAS), where class sizes are smaller and interaction with teachers and counselors is closer and more frequent.
“Today, I think it would be a process of sitting down with students, and hopefully their family, to make sure she would get her diploma,” Francois said. “The drive for us would be making sure we found solutions to help her finish high school.”
For Sandra, spending the end of last week at her mother’s house waking up in the same bedroom she did in high school felt surreal.
It’s where her teenage self worried about getting her hair right, studied competitively to earn better grades than her friends, and made plans for after graduation.
“Here I am wondering what I’m going to wear to my high-school graduation more than 50 years after I thought I’d be doing it,” Sandra said.
Saturday was the big day, and her 51-year-old son, Michael Kleven, her husband, her mother and about 50 other BHS classmates gathered in Bothell for it. Her son, a Seattle-area sound mixer and videographer, had his camera ready.
“I’m really proud of her. She’s made some courageous choices,” he said.
Humphrey left no graduation detail lacking: She made sure Sandra’s cap and gown were white, just like the girls’ gowns were in ’63, and readied “Pomp and Circumstance” on her iPad. She reminded Sandra which direction the blue tassel is turned.
And then she introduced Sandra to a room of friends on their feet, clapping. Francois handed Sandra the long-delayed Bothell High School Class of ’63 diploma to more applause.
As the room quieted, a microphone made it into Sandra’s hands as well.
“I only thought one sentence into what I could say here, and I knew I would stammer through it,” Sandra said. “And that one sentence is, ‘ow I belong.'”