Maryland high school student Maddi Runkles has stood out in the classroom for the past four years. She has a 4.0 GPA, she was student council president and she's an officer in the Key Club. But the spotlight is now on her for another reason.
The high school senior has been barred from participating in her private Christian school's graduation ceremony because she is pregnant.
School principal Dave Hobbs defended the decision.
"To have a girl who's seven months pregnant walk in a graduation would be easily misunderstood, bringing even more pressure onto Maddi," he told WHAGTV in Hagerstown, in a story published Tuesday.
The school's board of directors previously said in a statement that the matter was "an internal issue about which much prayer and discussion has taken place."
Runkles will be excluded from the June 2 ceremony at Heritage Academy in Hagerstown, Maryland, because she violated the school's code of conduct by having premarital sex. Runkles discovered she was pregnant in January.
After her pregnancy became known, officials at the small school suspended her for two days and removed her from her student council position.
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When students enroll at Heritage Academy, they sign a pledge promising they will abstain from sex and avoid alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs. Runkles was disciplined because she violated that pledge, Hobbs said.
"When Maddi chose to breach that Bible standard, a discipline plan had to be established," he said.
Runkles' father once sat on the Heritage board and recused himself from decisions involving his daughter. He ultimately quit the board to protest how she was treated.
Runkles said she feels she has been treated more harshly than students who have been suspended for other reasons. The baby's father does not attend the school, she said.
The anti-abortion group Students for Life says barring Runkles from participating in her graduation ceremony goes too far, and even encourages students to have abortions.
"The school has shown students that it would be easier to choose abortion than to choose life," the president of the group, Kristan Hawkins, said by phone. "Because she chose to carry her child, and courageously made that decision, she's been punished this entire semester for being pregnant, and that's just wrong."
Runkles' family is holding an alternative graduation ceremony for her next weekend.
She's due to deliver her baby in September, and is planning to start taking online classes through Liberty University.