The city's mayor said Monday there is no evidence a group of young girls made a pact to get pregnant and raise their babies together, seeking to dispel an explosive theory put forth by the high school principal.
"Any planned blood-oath bond to become pregnant - there is absolutely no evidence of," Mayor Carolyn Kirk said Monday after a closed-door meeting with city, school and health leaders.
Conspicuously absent from that meeting was Gloucester High School Principal Joseph Sullivan, who has not responded to repeated requests for comment after he was quoted last week in a Time magazine story saying the girls planned to get pregnant together.
The mayor, who also sits on the school committee, said she was not comfortable having Sullivan at the meeting.
Kirk cited privacy concerns in refusing to answer many questions about the 17 girls who became pregnant this school year - more than quadruple the number who generally become pregnant as the school.
Kirk said she and Superintendent Christopher Farmer have been in touch with Sullivan, and that he was "foggy in his memory" about how he came to believe there was a pact.
"When pressed, his memory failed," Kirk said.
Authorities have talked to school and health officials who work most closely with the children and, Kirk said, "The people that worked with the children on a daily basis have said there has been no mention whatsoever of a pact."
But Time posted a story on its Web site Monday that included new quotes from its earlier interview with Sullivan in which the principal said a lack of access to birth control did not play a part in the surge of pregnancies.
"That bump was because of seven or eight sophomore girls. They made a pact to get pregnant and raise their babies together," Time quoted Sullivan as saying.
Calls to Sullivan's office and home have not been returned. So far, Sullivan is the only school or city official who has used the term "pact."
Time also reported Monday that Pathways for Children chief executive Sue Todd, whose organization runs the high school's onsite daycare center, told the magazine on June 13 that its social worker had heard of the girls' plan to get pregnant as early as last fall. Todd has not returned calls from The Associated Press.
"We're facing a new area in teen pregnancy," CBS Early Show psychologist Linda Boesky, author of "When to Worry: How to Tell If Your Teen Needs Help-And What to Do About It," said on Friday.
"What we've always known (is) teens who are surprised and shocked (at getting pregnant). Now, instead of unplanned teen pregnancies, what we're seeing in this town is actually planned teen pregnancies," Boesky told co-anchor Julie Chen.
Boesky suggested part of the influence on teen girls in America comes from the pervasive celebrity culture. "If you look at all the celebrity magazines, celebrity TV shows, you can't turn a page without seeing more and more celebrities getting pregnant," she said.
The mayor said the spike in pregnancies is in keeping with similar spikes in other cities.
Farmer said there was a "distinct possibility" that the girls who found themselves in similar, challenging situations later decided to "come together for mutual support."
He said the Time magazine piece did not distinguish between "a pact to become pregnant or a pact because we are pregnant."
Farmer also said it was clear some of the girls were not trying very hard not to become pregnant. The principal had said some girls gave high-fives and planned baby showers while others were sullen if their pregnancy tests at the high school clinic came back negative.
Farmer defended Sullivan saying, "I don't believe anyone has acted in particularly bad faith here."
Gloucester resident Annette Dion, a 45-year-old private music teacher, said school and city officials should have done more to find out whether the girls truly made a pact to become pregnant. She said denying such a pact existed is "pretty naive."
"I don't think we heard the truth today," Dion said, adding that pop culture has glamorized teen pregnancy and that movies and celebrity pregnancies do not give girls an accurate picture of parenthood.
"My personal feeling, my impression, is they probably talked and discussed and thought it would be cool to get pregnant together," she said.
Brendan Henry, a 17-year-old going into his senior year at Gloucester, said the attention surrounding the alleged pact has taken the focus off bigger issues facing young people, including school underfunding. Still, he did not doubt that a pact could have existed.
"It definitely sounds like something that would happen at Gloucester High School," he said. "It doesn't sound too far fetched at all."
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