A panel of three public health experts last night recommended a response to the rise in teen pregnancies in Gloucester that included comprehensive sex education and options to provide contraceptives in the high school health center.
Dr. Lauren Smith, medical director of the state Department of Public Health, who supported providing confidential access to contraceptives at the school health clinic as a way to limit pregnancies when debate about the issue took off in May, reiterated her support for "comprehensive reproductive health service delivery."
Smith also recommended Gloucester schools implement comprehensive sex education, focusing on both the male and female roles in creating teen pregnancies, and that officials should investigate the factors that have contributed to a rise in pregnancies locally.
Dr. Karen Hacker, medical director of the Institute for Community Health in Cambridge, said she supported a policy tailored to the city's individual needs and values, but said as a doctor, not being able to prescribe something for a patient who would be helped by it, such as birth control, is difficult.
Hacker said while the benefits of contraceptives were not in doubt, many communities had decided to offer parents the option of opting in or out of the reproductive health portion of a clinic's services.
Patricia Quinn, director of the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy, said providing confidential access to contraceptives has been proven scientifically to reduce pregnancies where methods such as abstinence-only education had not.
In addition to the outside experts, city Public Health Director Jack Vondras, the man responsible for organizing the event, presented a summary of findings from interviews with staff from school health clinics in comparable cities.
In the summary, Vondras said staff at the clinics of other cities, which were not identified, had recommended to "improve access to contraception."
Those clinic staff members also reported students at their schools saying they were trying to intentionally become pregnant.
The meeting was billed as the first step in educating the School Committee before it considers adopting a new policy or program to help limit the surge in pregnancies at the high school. The next step will be a public hearing to debate policy recommendations, School Committee Chairman Greg Verga said.
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