Pregnancy pact's existence still unproven
With news of Gloucester High School girls planning to become pregnant making local, national and international headlines, Mayor Carolyn Kirk says she has not confirmed the existence of a “pact” among students, and that there is no evidence to believe that there was one.
“There’s been a lot of emphasis placed on whether or not there was a pact. The reason it’s important for the leadership to know, meaning the chair of the School Committee, superintendent, and myself, is because if there was knowledge of one by anyone associated with this situation, why did they not come forward? This is a serious question that I am looking to get answers on,” Kirk said.
In a Time magazine article published last week, Gloucester High School Principal Joseph Sullivan was attributed as saying there was a pact among students to become pregnant. Response to the article threw Gloucester into the media spotlight, putting pressure on city and school officials to determine if the pact did or did not exist.
“We need to know if the proper notification was done up the ranks,” Kirk said. “If there was one, why didn’t they come forward?” Kirk said school staff has an obligation to report such information so that an intervention could put in place.
In a press conference held Monday afternoon, Kirk, Superintendent Christopher Farmer, and School Committee Chairman Greg Verga addressed the media. Sullivan was not present at the press conference, held in City Hall’s Kyrouz Auditorium.
“I wasn’t comfortable with having the principal here, because I haven’t had verification of any of his statements,” Kirk said.
“There were a group of girls who were being pregnancy tested with a regularity that would lead one to the conclusion … that they were not trying very hard not to get pregnant. We also understand that some of them expressed pleasure at being pregnant,” Farmer said.
The students have not been questioned by Farmer or by Kirk. Farmer would not comment on whether he will continue an investigation into a pact, and Kirk said she will not be investigating it further.
“If the girls want to speak with me, my door is open,” she said. “This is a private matter with their families. We are going to respect that.”
Over the weekend, Farmer questioned Sullivan about where he had heard about the pact, and at the press conference Farmer said Sullivan was unable to recall where he had learned that information. Farmer has interviewed the guidance counselors at the high school, and none of them were able to confirm existence of a pact.
Farmer said he knows what the status of Sullivan’s position in the schools will be, but would make no comment on what it is. Farmer has requested that school staff members do not talk to the media, and Sullivan has not returned calls from the Beacon.
Prior to the meeting and press conference, Farmer spoke with Kathleen Kingsbury, the Time magazine reporter who quoted Sullivan saying that some of the girls were intentionally becoming pregnant.
Farmer said the questions “Was there any evidence of a pact that a group of girls were collectively intending to become pregnant?” and “Were there a group of pregnant girls who, by virtue of their common circumstance, came together to talk about supporting one another as they bring up their babies?” are two very different questions.
“The Time journalist tells me she did not distinguish between those two situations in her discussions,” Farmer said, adding, “I believe the issue of a pact has been greatly overstated.”
Over the next two months, the School Committee will be making policy decisions to be put in place regarding student pregnancies.
At present, the student health clinic does not have the authority to distribute contraceptives. Nurse Practitioner Kim Daly and Dr. Brian Orr have resigned from the clinic, effective June 12, because they felt Addison Gilbert Hospital, which backs the clinic, would not support the distribution of contraceptives. The decision to make contraceptives available in the school lies with the School Committee, but would need the approval of the hospital for the policy to be put in place.
“I’m not comfortable with the confidential contraceptives, but I’m not at all comfortable with nothing. There’s got to be something in between,” said Verga. He suggested the possibility of introducing contraceptives in stages. “As a father, I don’t think confidential is the way to go right now. I’m not final in my answer, I’ve got to hear what people say.”
Verga and his wife, both Gloucester High School graduates of the Class of 1986, were expecting a child during their senior year. They married that August, and their daughter was born in December 1986. He said that while he has no regrets, he does not advise students to become pregnant.
“It’s not easy for these kids. It’s not going to be easy,” he said.
Kirk has given Public Health Director Jack Vondras the task of researching the issue and putting together a panel of experts to meet with the School Committee before they make policy decisions.
“I will be looking at the issues of teen pregnancy, teen pregnancy trends and consequences, the impact on youth, current methods for addressing issues of teen pregnancy, options considered for Gloucester, and recommendation for the School Committee,” Vondras said.
As mayor, Kirk is a voting member of the School Committee. She served on that committee for two terms prior to her election as mayor.
“We are bringing in experts, research-based information, as well as examples of what works in other school districts in order to guide the School Committee to comprehensive approach that is in the best interest of Gloucester children, our families, and our community,” Kirk said.
Contact Stephanie Silverstein at email@example.com.