Maddi Runkles, 18, is a 4.0 student who attends Heritage Academy in Maryland. In January, she found out she was pregnant and decided to keep her baby; she informed the school in February. Initially, the school’s administrator David Hobbs told Maddi that she would be suspended, removed as student council president, and would have to finish the school year at home. After the family appealed, Heritage agreed to permit Maddi to finish the school year with her classmates, but she would not be able to walk with the other seniors to receive her diploma at graduation. Her baby boy is due September 4.
An open letter to Heritage Academy administrator David Hobbs.
Dear Mr. Hobbs,
Let me begin by saying that I recognize you must be going through a very difficult time right now. In the wake of your decision to discipline Heritage Academy senior Maddi Runkles with a number of consequences, you and your small school of 170 students have been thrust into the national spotlight. Media from across the country have inundated you with requests for interviews, and you have been deluged with cries of protests from people the world over. I am sorry you find yourself at the epicenter of what must feel like an overwhelming situation.
Amidst all of that, I think sensible people agree that violations of a school’s code of conduct must have consequences. If a student commits to a specific rules in order to attend a school – and then violates them – discipline must follow in order for those rules to mean anything.
I think two key issues remain:
- Are the consequences reasonable?
- What message does it send to young women nationwide?
You now are on a national stage. You have been given an opportunity to deliver a message that can shape the behaviors and decision-making of students, not just in western Maryland – but nationally. You didn’t ask for this national role, but it’s one you now occupy.
Are the consequences reasonable?
Maddi has faced a number of consequences due to her sexual activity, with the greatest being the life-changing consequences which come with choosing to parent her baby. She is going to be a teen mom attending college in the fall. That will undoubtedly be difficult.
Maddi has faced the natural consequence of public embarrassment. She even addressed the entire student body in the wake of her pregnancy, and acknowledged that she made a mistake, and asked for forgiveness and help. I know I have never had to make that level of public admission and, with it, receive shame so publically. That alone is a massive consequence.
She also received a suspension from school; again, an action potentially consistent with violating a code of conduct. She was removed from her role as student council president. And, she was required to finish the rest of the school year at home, away from her classmates.
The issue that remains is your decision to exclude Maddi from graduation in one week. On June 2nd, even though she has earned her high school diploma, you have required that she receive it privately and not with her classmates. I assume one factor may have been that this might help keep the issue quiet, and not draw attention to a poor decision made by one of your students. I’d say, it’s a bit late for that.
There may have been other factors as well, but that added consequence – on top of the others mentioned – moves into territory that brings me to the second critical question.
What message does it send to young women nationwide?
Again, the nation isn’t typically your purview. But … this is now a special circumstance, and the country is watching.
I have the privilege to, among other responsibilities, lead some pregnancy centers. Every day we help young women grapple with the literal life and death decision involving the child growing inside them. 86% of the women we counsel, once they see via an ultrasound that it is indeed a baby, chose life for their child. We are always so thankful for that courageous decision. It helps a young woman avoid compounding one mistake – having sex before marriage – with another more grievous one … taking the life of her baby.
The greatest concern that I – and others who work in the pro-life arena – have with your decision to exclude Maddi from graduation is the dangerous message it sends to young women nationwide. They are seeing the severe way this is being handled and can come to the conclusion: “If I ever find myself in Maddi’s situation, the easy thing to do will be to stay hidden and abort my baby.” That would be tragic.
I am sure you feel you must “stick to your guns” on the initial consequences handed down, particularly after having already made an allowance that permitted Maddi to complete her schooling. As Christians, we serve a just God, but also a God who gives grace. One of my favorite accounts in the Bible is of Abraham, who persistently asked for God’s grace upon the people of Sodom. Abraham bargains with God, asking for His mercy if he can find 50 righteous people. 50 becomes 45, becomes 40, and on down the line until God agrees that for the “sake of 10, I will not destroy” Sodom. God is a God of justice, but He’s also a God of mercy.
For the sake of Maddi … her family … and for women and their babies nationwide, I am asking: would you offer Maddi similar grace? I believe the lives of so many are, quite literally, depending on it.
May God give you wisdom in the days ahead,
Life Network, President/CEO
Life Network is a Care Net affiliate committed to cultivating a community that chooses and values life through the love of Christ. It is based in Colorado Springs, Colo.