Christian School Bans Pregnant Senior From Graduation, Pro-Lifers Respond

Principal Dave Hobbs said the grace extended to Maddi Runkles will 'hold her accountable for her immorality.'

By Nancy Flory Published on May 23, 2017

Maddi Runkles is an excellent student. She attends the small Christian school Heritage Academy in Hagerstown, Maryland. She was the student council president and an officer in the Key Club at her school. But she won’t get the chance to walk across the stage at graduation next month. Maddi is pregnant.

Maddi found out that she was pregnant in January. She briefly considered an abortion but soon rejected that idea. Her parents supported her decision to choose life for her baby.

Maddi’s Unique Consequences

Maddi’s father and then-school board president, Scott Runkles, broke the news to Heritage Academy that his daughter was pregnant. Maddi was removed from her leadership positions in the student council and Key Club. Then she served a two-day suspension.

Maddi knew there would be other consequences, “because I did break the school code.” Students are required to sign a contract stating that they will not have sex outside of marriage. Heritage’s statement of faith requrires that “no intimate sexual activity be engaged in outside of the marriage commitment between a man and a woman.”

Maddi said she is being treated differently than other students. Other students have broken the contract, but only faced suspension. “I told on myself,” she said. “I asked for forgiveness. I asked for help.”

Principal Dave Hobbs was going to tell the school about Maddi’s pregnancy, but Maddi decided to do it herself. Her dad read half of her prepared statement while Maddi composed herself. She admitted her mistake but also said she chose life for her child. “It was embarrassing, but I wanted my peers and my friends to hear it from me.”

No Graduation

Scott said that some board members and staff thought Maddi should be allowed to participate in graduation. Others, including Hobbs, did not.

Hobbs did not respond to The Stream’s request for a statement prior to publication. However, Hobbs told The New York Times that Maddi’s pregnancy is “an internal issue about which much prayer and discussion has taken place.”

Some are concerned about the message other students will get if the school allows Maddi to participate in the graduation ceremony. Rick Kempton, Chairman of the Board of the Association of Christian Schools International, addressed the issue. “She’s making the right choice. But you don’t want to create a celebration that makes other young ladies feel like, ‘Well, that seems like a pretty good option.’”

Christian Grace?

Others wonder where grace is in all of this. Jeanne Mancini, President of March for Life, told The Stream in a statement that Maddi needs encouragement and support, not shaming. “Very often when a young woman is facing an unexpected pregnancy, shame is a factor in her decision to choose to carry her child to term, or not,” she said.

Shame can be the difference between a woman choosing life or death. I can certainly appreciate the code of conduct at the school, but what this young woman needs now is encouragement and real, tangible help and support. What will happen to another young woman at this school who gets pregnant? The precedent set forth in this situation is not life-affirming.”

Students for Life president Kristan Hawkins said, “She made the courageous decision to choose life, and she definitely should not be shamed. Hawkins unsuccessfully petitioned the principal to let Maddi graduate. “There has got to be a way to treat a young woman who becomes pregnant in a graceful and loving way.”

Scott resigned as school board president because of how his daughter was treated. “[I]n situations where you have a genuinely repentant student like Maddi,” he said, “grace and love should always have prominence over discipline.”

In a separate statement on Heritage Academy’s website, Hobbs said it concerned him that Heritage folks thought that he and the Board were “harsh, cruel, hard-hearted men.” Yet he said that the kind of grace he could offer Maddi was discipline in the “application of love.” He added, “The best way to love her right now is to hold her accountable for her immorality that began this situation.”

Maddi’s Struggles

Maddi struggles with the seeming contradiction of a pro-life Christian school that shames a pregnant young woman. “Some pro-life people are against the killing of unborn babies, but they won’t speak out in support of the girl who chooses to keep her baby,” she said. “Honestly, that makes me feel like maybe the abortion would have been better. Then they would have just forgiven me, rather than deal with this visible consequence.”

But Students for Life stepped in and provided the support that Maddi needed. Last month Maddi spoke at Students for Life’s #Sockit2PP on Capitol Hill when pro-life leaders asked Congress to defund Planned Parenthood.

Surrounded by a mountain of baby socks representing abortions Planned Parenthood performed, Maddi talked about her unexpected pregnancy. “I look at all these socks, and that could have been my baby,” she said. “But I choose to let my baby wear these socks. I know it’s going to be hard, I know it’s going to be really hard, to still accomplish all my goals and all my dreams. But I get to have a little guy following right next to me. And we get to do it together.”

Students for Life is asking supporters to send a message of support to Maddi. They are also throwing a graduation reception for Maddi, during which they will give a scholarship and baby gifts to her. They are collecting donations for that event.

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