GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

July 20, 2008

The GHS pregnancy saga

By By Times Staff

r March 7 — The Times first reports that local school and health officials confirm at least 10 girls — most in the "lower grades," have become pregnant during the current school year, up from the norm of 3-4 within the high school per year. Report touches off debate over whether the school should provide contraceptive services to students, but Principal Joseph Sullivan and others indicate that an undefined number of the girls are getting pregnant by choice, and are planning to raise the children together.

r March 28 — Times story featuring 17-year-old GHS senior Amanda Ireland spotlights the issues of being a teen mother and the role of the grant-funded GHS day-care center run by Pathways For Children.

r May 23 — Dr. Brian Orr, director of the GHS clinic, and Kim Daly, the clinic's chief nurse practitioner, announce their resignations in a dispute centering on Addison Gilbert Hospital's role with a committee considering, among other issues, whether clinic should confidentially dispense contraceptives to students. Orr and Daly claim the hospital and its parent Northeast Health System, which administers the clinic, are against distribution; hospital officials say that's not the case, that they're merely waiting for School Committee direction since the clinic is at the school. School and health officials also say the number of pregnancies has now risen to 17 — with reports some students were celebrating their positive pregnancy tests and others reacting with "disappointment" when tests prove negative.

r May 28 — Mayor Carolyn Kirk announces that city's Health Department and its director, Jack Vondras, will take over handling of the issue, and decries fact that hospital/schools panel has failed to carry out its charge.

r May 29 -- State Department of Health Medical Director Lauren Smith urges city to come up with a plan that includes confidential distribution of contraceptives in the school health clinic.

r May 28-30 — Associated Press picks up Times coverage, and some media outlets in New England and beyond carry versions of the Gloucester story, often comparing it to their own communities' teen pregnancy rates and services that schools in their areas provide.

r June 19 — A story by Time Magazine reporter Kathleen Kingsbury, posted online at Time.com, indicates that a number of the pregnant girls at GHS had formed a "pact" to get pregnant and raise the children together. The story is based on interviews with Principal Sullivan and others. By noon, CNN — like Time, a division of Time Warner — presents the story of a Gloucester "pregnancy pact" on its Web site and newscast. Within hours, media outlets across the nation and the world report the story and descend on Gloucester to report on the alleged "pregnancy pact."

r June 19 — Gloucester school, health and city officials question existence of any "pregnancy pact." Health officials also confirm that, at the close of the school year, 18 high school students had been pregnant; by this date, at least two of the students had given birth, and eight new or pending student/mothers had applied to place their children in the school/Pathways day care center, which is licensed by the state to serve seven. The Times also reports that, of the 18 girls who were pregnant during the school year, not one dropped out.

r June 23 — In a televised City Hall press conference recorded by media from around the world, Mayor Kirk, Superintendent of Schools Christopher Farmer and other officials say they had found "no evidence" of a reported "pregnancy pact." Kirk says that, when questioned, Principal Sullivan's memory became clouded and he could not remember who had told him about any "pact." But Sullivan, the mayor notes, was not invited to the press conference because she and Farmer could not verify his story.

r June 24 — Three of the GHS girls, including two who responded to inquiries from the Times and one who spoke on ABC's Good Morning America" and Inside Edition," say they were not aware of any "pregnancy pact" among students.

r June 27 — In a statement issued through a Gloucester attorney, GHS Principal Sullivan says he stands by his statements to Time Magazine regarding a number of the pregnancies being intentional — though he does not recall using the term "pact" during an interview at the school in early June.

r July 2 — Mayor Kirk announces plans for a series of meetings and community "listening posts" on the issue with an eye toward establishing policies for contraception distribution and health/sex education. Superintendent Farmer says neither the city nor the school district will seek input from the girls who became pregnant this past school year regarding any such policies. The first meeting is set for Wednesday, July 23, with a panel of state and local health and education officials coming to address the Gloucester School Committee.

r July 4 -- Fourth of July "Horribles" Parades in Salem Willows and especially in Beverly Farms mock the Gloucester pregnancies, triggering angry responses from Gloucester residents and Mayor Kirk. She later hosts Beverly Mayor Robert Scanlon and Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, and all three mayors denounce the parades. But Scanlon tells the Times that neither he nor the city — which issued a permit for the Beverly Farms parade, allocated a police detail for it, and provided a firetruck to lead it — will not handle it differently next year.