Heritage Academy, a small independent Christian school in Maryland that has been facing public criticism over its decision to bar a pregnant student-athlete from participating in her graduation next month, broke its silence Tuesday to clarify that the student was being punished for her "immoral" premarital sex, not her pregnancy.
"Let me clarify some facts. Maddi is being disciplined, not because she's pregnant, but because she was immoral," said the school's administrator, David R. Hobbs, in a letter to the school community Tuesday.
Maddi Runkles, 18, "a practicing born-again Christian" with a 4.0 average at Heritage Academy who played on the soccer team and was president of the school's student council, found out she was pregnant in January. Days later, she was accepted to attend Bob Jones University, a Christian liberal arts school in Greenville, South Carolina, according to The New York Times.
Runkles, who had promised to stay away from premarital sex, drugs and other things during her time at the school through a signed code of conduct, has been barred from walking in her graduation ceremony after school officials found out about her predicament.
Now her upset parents and a pro-life advocacy group, Students for Life, are pushing the school's administrator to change course because she repented and chose life instead of an abortion.
When The Christian Post contacted Hobbs about the matter on Monday, he declined to say whether any other students had been barred from graduation in the school's history or even explain the school's decision.
"I've been a principal for a long time, and I believe that when it comes to the behavioral matters of individual families that that information is confidential," he said. "I believe it's my commitment to protect the Runkles family by not commenting."
A day later, however, he released comments to the public as the family continued pressing the issue in the media.
He noted that the Student Pledge is signed by every student from 5th through 12th grade. The pledge "states that this application of Philippians 4:8 'extends to my actions, such as protecting my body by abstaining from sexual immorality and from the use of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs.'"
Hobbs added in his letter Tuesday, "Heritage is also pleased that she has chosen to not abort her son. However, her immorality is the original choice she made that began this situation."
Heritage Academy's mission, as stated on their website, "is to provide a Christian education, offering the highest quality of academics taught from a Biblical perspective that will equip all students academically, spiritually, socially, and physically so that they may discern and live out God's plan for their lives as Christian leaders."
When the school found out that Runkles was pregnant, she was stripped of her leadership roles. Hobbs, according to Students for Life, was going to announce to the school that she had broken the rules but she volunteered to tell the school herself.
"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," Runkles said. "It was embarrassing but I wanted my peers and my friends to hear it from me. The public confession was hard enough but unfortunately I knew there would be more consequences that I would have to face."
She was then told initially that because of her pregnancy, she would have to complete her studies at home. After she made an appeal with the support of her parents and 25 others consisting of classmates and other parents, however, she was allowed to remain in school but denied entry to the graduation ceremony which will take place next month.
In his statement on Tuesday, Hobbs said Runkles would still be getting the high school diploma she earned at the school.
Scott Runkles, Maddi's father who served as president of the school's board, resigned because of the controversy over his daughter.
"There were some members of the staff and board that support Maddi's quest to participate in graduation," he said.
"This reflects the divergence of opinions that can occur at a Christian school when it comes to pregnant teens. However, in situations where you have a genuinely repentant student like Maddi, grace and love should always have prominence over discipline."
Hobbs said he believes the school is giving Runkles the grace she needs.
"Much has been said about grace. I believe that there are two kinds of grace: saving grace and living grace," he said Tuesday. "One is concerning spiritual birth 'once and for all' (Hebrews 9:12, 10:10) which demanded no effort on my part, because my Savior Jesus, finished this on His cross and from His empty tomb. The other kind of grace is spiritual growth that does demand my effort (2 Peter 3:18). It also includes discipline (Hebrews 12:5-11).
"A wise man told me that discipline is not the absence of love, but the application of love. We love Maddi Runkles. The best way to love her right now is to hold her accountable for her immorality that began this situation."
Responding to Hobbs' statement Tuesday, Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, insisted that the school by its action, was sending the message that pregnancy is a shame.
"By banning her and her alone, the administration and board collectively decided to make a public example of one student and has either intentionally or unintentionally communicated to the school community that pregnancy (not simply premarital sex) is a shame and should not be observed within our school community," Hawkins said.
"It appears that the school is not satisfied that she has repented of and been held accountable for her initial offense, and that satisfaction of such only comes at a public cost (i.e. not walking at graduation)."