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Teenage pregnancy called crisis in county

August 03, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

WASHINGTON COUNTY

karenh@herald-mail.com

Public schools and other agencies must work together to solve the teenage pregnancy crisis, Dale Bannon, executive director of United Way of Washington County, said Tuesday night.

"It really is a county-wide crisis that really needs full community participation," Bannon said after a presentation about teenage pregnancy before the Washington County Board of Education.

Bannon expects a survey of teenagers, parents and service providers addressing the crisis to be completed by September.

According to Ed Masood, Washington County Public Schools supervisor of arts, health and physical education/athletics, a task force of public and nonprofit agencies, businesses and individuals has met since April to find ways to address the problem.

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In 2003, Washington County Hospital reported 185 births to mothers ages 15 to 19.

Masood pointed out by phone Tuesday afternoon that the numbers included only 60 births to girls ages 15 to 17. The other births were to women, ages 18 and 19, who could already have been out of school or married, Masood said. Some of the mothers also might have been from other counties, he said.

"While 60 doesn't seem like a big number, it is a number that concerns us. One is too many," Masood told the board.

Masood said 94 percent of the mothers returned to school within six weeks of giving birth. He said he had "no clue" how many graduated.

According to Masood, the public schools' family life and human development curriculum begins discussions about respect and family structures.

Parents are given the opportunity to pull their children out of an introduction to classes covering physiological and personality changes. Parents must provide consent for students to continue with the curriculum in middle school and high school, Masood said.

According to Masood, fewer than 1 percent of high schoolers were pulled out of high school classes covering human sexual behavior. About 3 percent of seventh-grade girls and 2 percent of eighth-grade girls were pulled from the program by their parents, compared with about 1 percent of boys in those grades, Masood said.

Masood said the problem is a community problem, and he defended the school system's approach.

"We've been collaborating. This is not a blame game-type deal," Masood said.

According to Masood, a new initiative could allow all ninth-graders across the county to take part in a pregnancy-prevention conference that previously had been open to one class per high school. Expanding the program would require board action, Masood said.

William Christoffel, health officer for Washington County Health Department, who has criticized the program in the past, could not be reached for comment after the meeting Tuesday night. He did not return a phone call to his house.

Board member Russell Williams said during the meeting that the county's pregnancy rate indicates the school system has done "the worst job in the state" to prevent pregnancy.

Williams said after the meeting that students should be taught "an emphasis on abstinence is best, everything else is dangerous, but if you're going to do dangerous things, here are some ways to avoid injuring yourselves."

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