A former cadet who was expelled from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy after becoming a father filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday challenging the school’s policy that prohibits students from being parents.
Isaak Olson was two months from graduating from the academy in 2014 with a degree in mechanical engineering and a commission as an officer when he disclosed that his fiancee had given birth to their first child several months earlier, according the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Connecticut.
The academy expelled Olson under a regulation that requires cadets to either resign or be “disenrolled” if they incur a “parental obligation” from a pregnancy over 14 weeks, according to the lawsuit.
“The decision to become a parent is deeply personal, and no school or job should be able to interfere with that choice,” Elana Bildner, an ACLU of Connecticut staff attorney representing Olson, said in a statement. “The U.S. Coast Guard Academy’s archaic regulation, which forces cadets to choose between parenthood and their degrees, has been morally wrong and unconstitutional since its inception.”
The ban was introduced in the late 1970s, just after the academy began admitting women, Bildner said.
“It is likely no accident that the academy instituted its arcane ban on parenthood only after it began admitting women,” she said. “This policy has no place in Connecticut or elsewhere, and it must end.”
Messages were left Wednesday seeking comment from both the school and the Coast Guard.
Olson learned of his fiancee’s pregnancy in April of his junior year, according to the lawsuit. She decided not to have an abortion and he decided not to resign because that would have meant allowing the academy to recoup the cost of his education, estimated at up to $500,000, according to the lawsuit.
His fiancee gave birth in August 2013. Olson disclosed that he had a child on a duty screening application in March 2014, which was the first time he had been asked about dependents, according to the lawsuit.
The couple, in an effort to resolve the matter and allow him to graduate, had Olson’s parental rights terminated, according to his attorneys. The couple is now married with two children, according to the lawsuit.
He was never given a hearing and was “disenrolled” from the academy, according to the lawsuit. He decided to sue after going through a lengthy administrative process in an effort to get his status restored, Bildner said.
Olson enlisted in the Coast Guard shortly after his expulsion and is currently an aviation maintenance technician stationed in Alaska. He is seeking his commission and back pay as part of the lawsuit. The academy ultimately did not seek to recoup the cost of his education.
Olson and his family receive about $3,000 less per month than they would have if he had been granted his commission as an officer, according to the lawsuit.
The case is expected to have implications at other service academies, which have similar policies, according to the ACLU.
“We believe such bans are wrong for every military service academy and that the academies should strike them from their regulations,” said Linda Morris, a staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project.
A bill introduced in the U.S. Senate this summer by Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, would mandate an end to policies that force students in military academies to withdraw or give up their children if they become pregnant.
“This policy is unfair, antiquated, and unacceptable,” Cruz said at the time.
Under the bill, military academies would treat pregnancies in line with the rest of the military.