, Gloucester, MA

June 25, 2008

Editorial: Too many questions remain to move forward

So, maybe there was a "pact" — and maybe there wasn't.

Depending on how one defines that term, it seems more and more as if there wasn't a Gloucester High School "pregnancy pact" in the true sense of that word. But one thing is clear: city and school officials should stop focusing on that and turn their attention to something else — like a virtual epidemic of teen pregnancies, including a number that may have been intentional.

For the past several days — as the media frenzy continues to swirl around the city's teen pregnancy spike — far too much of the discussion has been about semantics.

According to Mayor Carolyn Kirk and schools Superintendent Christopher Farmer, who led a press conference in front of a host of television cameras Monday afternoon, they and other school officials were not able to "confirm" that nearly half of the 18 young teens who have become pregnant during the past school year had made a "pact" with one another to do so, and then raise their children together.

Curiously — very curiously — the one official who had spoken of such a pact wasn't there. Instead, Kirk and Farmer spoke for Gloucester High School Principal Joseph Sullivan. They said he "didn't remember" who had told him of the existence of a pact. And Kirk said she was uncomfortable having Sullivan at the press conference because she and others had not been able to "confirm" his statements.

So why not let him speak for himself? The fact is, his absence — and he has been unavailable for more than a week since the Times last spoke to him June 13 — whether it was ordered by his superiors or not, simply raises more questions. And there are too many questions that remain unanswered.

If, indeed, Kirk's City Hall press conference before a battery of media outlets was an effort to try to close a chapter in this sad saga and move forward, it didn't do it, largely because so many answers are still needed before we can.

It's troubling that Kirk and Farmer say they were unable to confirm anything. How hard have they tried? Have they, or school counselors, tried to talk with each of the girls?

After a week of intense focus, that question should have been easily answered by now. But at their Monday conference, they suggested that had not talked to any of the girls at the center of this firestorm — and didn't say they were going to do so.

Does the mayor really think that no evidence of a "planned blood-oath bond to become pregnant," as she put it, settles the matter? It could have been an informal agreement, or some of the girls just talking about it after they were already pregnant, as Farmer suggested. Though some of the girls are now, to their credit, speaking up and coming forward (Please see news story, Page 1),the existence of any pact or plot remains uncertain.

Such semantic games, however, aren't even the real issue. The issue — which has been confirmed by Sullivan and others — is that a number of these girls were apparently trying to get pregnant and succeeded. And the job of administrators, elected officials, parents and law enforcement officers should be to confront it, call it what it is — a serious problem — and have a frank discussion of what to do about it, without worrying about being politically correct.

The PC approach to such things is to call for "more education" and to distribute birth control without the knowledge or consent of parents. Neither really tackles this case.

The kids have plenty of sex education — as one student interviewed on TV said, "They all know how to get pregnant and how not to get pregnant."

And birth control would not have helped any of the girls who tried to get pregnant, celebrated a positive test result, or showed disappointment when her test came back negative — as sources close to the case have confirmed. Even if they had received it, they weren't going to use it.

There surely are other factors — the glamorization of teen pregnancy, from movies like "Juno" to the real-life example of Jamie Lynn Spears — that can influence impressionable adolescents. But nobody can turn off media saturation.

Similarly, the mayor and school officials cannot expect this issue to "go away" without finding some answers to the most important question: Why?

Monday's press conference didn't even scratch the surface to finding an answer to that, and officials didn't really assure us they were still looking hard to find out.

Why is that? That's now become a big question, too.