By Patrick Anderson
Principal Joseph Sullivan yesterday refuted characterization by Mayor Carolyn Kirk that he was incapable of remembering or verifying his statements about an alleged effort by some Gloucester High School students to become pregnant and raise children together.
In a statement issued to the Times by his lawyer, J. Michael Faherty, Sullivan rejected Kirk's suggestion at a news conference Monday that he was "foggy in his memory" and that "his memory failed him" when pressed to say where he got his information and whether he told a reporter from Time magazine that a number of the 18 students who became pregnant this past school year did so intentionally as part of a "pact."
The statement outlines Sullivan's view of his June 11 conversation with Time magazine reporter Kathleen Kingsbury.
"I honestly do not remember specifically using the word 'pact' in my meeting with the Time magazine reporter," Sullivan said. However, he said he stands by belief that "my understanding was that a number of the pregnancies were intentional and that the students within this group were friendly with each other."
Kirk, addressing dozens of television and print reporters Monday, based her description of Sullivan's failing memory and unconfirmed comments on a conversation between the principal and School Superintendent Christopher Farmer. Standing alongside Farmer, Kirk told reporters that city and school officials had been unable to verify the existence of a "pregnancy pact" — and cited Sullivan's inability to remember where he heard about it as an indication the pact may not be real. She said Sullivan had not been invited to the event because his statements regarding the teen pregnancies "could not be verified."
Attempts to reach Kirk by phone for comment were unsuccessful. But in an e-mail statement, Kirk declined to comment on Sullivan's statements, but said she did not regret her comments on Monday.
"Even though I have been coming under attack since my press conference, if I had to do it all over again, I would choose again to stand up and protect the privacy of Gloucester children and their families, and to defend our city from unsubstantiated and sensationalized reports of a problem faced by many communities," Kirks' statement said.
In March, the Gloucester Daily Times reported that 10 girls within the school, three times the average annual number, were pregnant. By the end of May, the medical director of the school health clinic, Dr. Brian Orr, said that 17 girls had become pregnant between June 2007 and 2008. Amid debate about the confidential distribution of birth control pills and condoms, Orr and Kim Daly, the clinic's nurse practitioner, resigned after they said officials from Addison Gilbert Hospital, which runs the clinic, had been reluctant to distribute birth control.
Sullivan's statement says that he told Kingsbury that distribution of birth control at the high school would not have prevented the spike in pregnancies because "my sources had informed me that a significant number of the pregnancies, especially among the younger students, were the result of deliberate and intentional behavior."
Sullivan told the Gloucester Daily Times two days after he met with Kingsbury that the pregnancy spike had been caused by a "clique of girls who wanted to get pregnant." He also said the distribution of contraceptives at the high school without the consent of parents would "break the trust between the parents and school."
Sullivan's sources of information about the intentional pregnancies at the high school, yesterday's statement said, included Daly, school faculty and student "chatter."
Sullivan's statement was issued shortly after 3 p.m. yesterday by Faherty, a Gloucester attorney who is also a former chairman of the city's School Committee and who clashed with Kirk during her campaign for mayor last year.
In a series of bulleted items, Sullivan's statement says that Kirk has not tried to contact him since June 11, that he believes everything he told Time magazine was accurate, and that he has been "harassed and harangued" by the press in the past week.
"The affected children need to be left alone with their parents and families to deal with the consequences of their actions," the statements says.
"Intense media attention needs to come to a stop as it distorts the reality of the situation by focusing the attention on the sources of information about the problem of 'children having children' instead of seeking solutions to the problem itself."
Patrick Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.