Town officials in Gloucester, Mass., are questioning reports that a group of young girls made a pact to get pregnant this past school year. As many as 18 high school students are pregnant: that's four times the usual teen pregnancy rate.
Time magazine reported last week that a group of mostly 15-and 16-year-old girls had all planned their pregnancies together, as part of a secret pact. But Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk suggested it may have never happened.
"Any planned blood oath bond to become pregnant — there is no evidence of," she said.
Gloucester High School Principal Joseph Sullivan, who first told Time magazine about the pact, was conspicuously absent from the news conference. Kirk says she was uncomfortable with the idea of having him there.
"We pressed him for specifics about who told him; when was he told," she said. "He was foggy ... about how he heard of the information."
Time magazine says it is standing by its story. But Superintendent Christopher Farmer says from what he's gathered, the so-called pact may have been nothing more than a post-pregnancy agreement by the girls to stick together and help each other raise their babies.
"I believe the issue of a pact has been greatly overstated, and I don't know what conclusions would be reached if we knew there was or wasn't a pact," he says.
Several community residents who came to the news conference agree — that all the fuss about the alleged pact is beside the point.
Whether there was a pact or not, there are 17 or 18 young girls who are pregnant, says Gloucester resident Michelle Ameno. "And they are very, very young girls," she says.
Many residents say they're frustrated that Gloucester is not doing more to educate young girls. Sex education now stops in ninth grade because of budget cuts in this former fishing town, which has fallen on hard economic times.
"I think that's pretty scary ... that [girls] think [pregnancy] is their way out. And they're not worried about the expense of it," says Paulette Dion, whose granddaughter goes to Gloucester High School. "Now they're just going to be welfare parents."
School officials say they are calling in expert advisers and will decide by fall whether to start offering birth control through the high school health center. It's a controversial proposition in this heavily Catholic community. And, many residents are quick to point out, birth control would not stop young girls who are trying to get pregnant.