High school senior Maddi Runkles has attended Christian school for her whole life.
But when she became pregnant in January, the Christian school that she once was very much a part of left her feeling alone and unsupported.
Students for Life of America, which is supporting Runkles and her baby, said Heritage Academy in Hagerstown, Maryland will not allow the young woman to participate in her graduation ceremony even though she publicly apologized for her actions.
The student pro-life organization, along with many other pro-lifers, are urging the school to support Runkles and her unborn child.
“When we heard about Maddi’s situation, we wanted to not only help her, but also show all of her peers at the school, and in schools across the nation, that choosing not to have an abortion is a good thing and should be supported as such, not made into a cruel embarrassment,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life.
Breitbart reports Runkles maintained a 4.0 grade point average and served as president of the student council at Heritage Academy. And like most Christian school students, she signed a pledge to avoid premarital sex, drugs and alcohol.
Then January came, and she discovered she was pregnant out of wedlock.
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The young woman said she did consider abortion, but the support she received from her parents and church made all the difference.
“… I was so afraid of what I was going to face, because I was just afraid of what everyone was going to think of me and the family that I come from,” Runkles said. “It was just going to hurt my reputation and everything. It was hard to choose life, it wasn’t an easy decision, but I know it was the right decision.”
Many of the leaders at Heritage Academy were not supportive. According to the report, when the school discovered Runkles was pregnant, they stripped her of her role as student council president and insisted that she finish the rest of her classes at home.
In addition, she said her principal, David Hobbs, planned to tell the school that she had broken her pledge and was pregnant. Instead, Hobbs agreed to allow her to publicly confess to the student body instead, according to the report.
“I decided I wanted to confess what I did and ask for forgiveness from my school, but the other kids who had broken other rules – even when they were caught – they still lied about what they had done,” Runkles said. “It just seems unfair. I tried to make it right, but was still shot down.
“I stood there in tears while my dad read half of my prepared statement until I could compose myself and read the rest on my own, admitting my mistake but also saying that I chose life for my child. It was embarrassing but I wanted my peers and my friends to hear it from me,” she continued.
School officials are allowing her to finish her classes at school, but Students for Life leaders said the principal still will not let her participate in graduation.
Runkles’ father, Scott, resigned his position as school board president because of the way the school treated his daughter, according to Students for Life.
Runkles’ story gained national attention over the weekend when the New York Times profiled her. She said she hopes her story will challenge Christians to be more supportive of girls like her.
The young woman told Breitbart: “My main mission through all this is that Christians claim to be pro-life, but when a girl chooses to keep her baby they still don’t want anything to do with it. It kind of defeats the whole purpose of being pro-life, and says to girls, ‘Maybe you should have gotten the abortion because we could forgive you for that.’”
Students for Life said Christians need to re-evaluate the messages they send when they punish and shame young women like Maddi.
The pro-life group wrote on its blog:
What did Maddi’s peers think when she got up there in front of them to confess her sin? What if a pregnant, scared girl was sitting in that audience and saw the embarrassment that she had to endure along with the punishment she is receiving – would that girl make an appointment with the nearest Planned Parenthood to have an abortion? More than likely.
When these teens graduate and are confronted with situations that test their faith in college, they will remember what happened at Heritage Academy and how their Christian school treated Maddi. They will remember that it wasn’t with grace and compassion, that it wasn’t with love. That’s not a great legacy to leave with graduating students.
The school could have used Maddi’s story as an example of how to do the right thing and support a pregnant student. But they didn’t. The proper legacy to leave is a picture of a Christian school that chose to do the right thing by supporting a young girl who acknowledged her mistake but also chose to do the right thing in the end.
The young woman said she plans to attend community college in the fall and study business. She is having a boy.
Students for Life is collecting donations for a scholarship for Runkles and baby gifts for her unborn child. Donate here. People also can send Runkles messages of support here.
ACTION: Email Principal David Hobbs ([email protected]) at Heritage Academy, and ask him to please reconsider the school’s decision not to allow Maddi to walk with her peers at graduation.