School panel vote set

Contraceptives policy at issue

By Steven Rosenberg
Globe Staff / October 5, 2008
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Just three days before the School Committee is to vote on whether to allow contraceptives to be distributed at Gloucester High School, a third member of the committee has joined Mayor Carolyn Kirk and chairman Greg Verga in supporting that action.

"It's difficult. These kids don't feel comfortable talking to their parents, and if the result of it is going to be an unwanted pregnancy - I mean that is the reality that we'll face," said School Committee member Melissa Teixeira, who endorsed allowing contraceptives to be distributed at the school's health clinic with parental consent.

Verga and Kirk said last month that they also plan to vote to allow contraceptive distribution to students, as long as their parents agree.

"That's what I'll push for; that's the way I'd like to see it go. As a parent of a teenage daughter I wouldn't want to see it without parental notification," said Verga, who added that three proposals have been made regarding school policy toward contraceptives, which are not currently offered at the school.

The three proposals expected to be discussed when the School Committee meets Wednesday at 7 p.m. at City Hall include providing contraceptives to all students, allowing contraceptives distribution to students only with parental consent, or continuing the current policy.

To create a new policy, it must be backed by four of the seven the school board members. To date, only Kirk, Verga, and Teixeira have said how they plan to vote.

Gloucester was thrust into the national spotlight in June after Time magazine reported that several teenage girls had entered into a pregnancy pact.

While the mayor denied the existence of a pact later that month, the School Committee has since debated the merits of offering contraceptives at the school's health clinic, run by Northeast Health System.

During the summer, the School Committee formed a committee to advise them on contraceptives policy.

That committee included Dr. Lauren Smith, medical director of the Department of Public Health, and Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy. Smith and Quinn subsequently recommended that the school allow contraceptives distribution.

On Wednesday, the School Committee held a public meeting to hear feedback from Gloucester's residents. Reaction to the plans was mixed among high school students and parents.

But at least one parent of one of the 18 teenage girls who became pregnant at the school last year called for students to be allowed access to birth control whether their parents allow it or not.

"I think it's a fabulous idea, as long as there are follow-up appointments with the children," said Wendy Brown. Brown's daughter Kyla, a senior, gave birth to a son on Sept. 19. "I think the option should be there, not only to prevent pregnancy but sexually transmitted diseases."

Teixeira says no matter how the School Committee votes, it will be up to parents in the city to take more of a role in educating their children about sex.

"The parents need to step up here," said Teixeira. "What I think is learned and what I hope people take away is that parents really need to be more involved in their children's lives and try to talk openly with them. And if the parents don't feel comfortable, then they need to seek the education and the guidance to do that."

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