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County board, BOE need to push for plan on teen births rate

March 16, 2006

Six months after presentation of a report on Washington County's teen pregnancy crisis, it is distressing to hear that two key agencies are still not on the same page.

We know that William Christoffel, the county's health officer and Edward Masood, the school system's director of arts, health, physical education and athletics, have had their differences in the past.

But this issue is more important than any one person's feelings. The School Board and the County Commissioners need to determine what the problem is and get everyone working together.

Word of continuing differences came Tuesday, when Christoffel made a budget presentation to the commissioners. Commissioner President Greg Snook asked Christoffel what the school system was doing to reduce the number teens giving birth.

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Christoffel said he was biting his tongue, but when pressed said "our relationship with the School Board has been difficult, to say the least."

Asked for specifics, Christoffel said school officials had promised that during the 2005-2006 school year that all 1,700 ninth graders would get a 90-minute workshop put on by the Interagency Committee on Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention and Parenting.

That was due to be scheduled in November, Christoffel said, but arrangements were only made recently.

Christoffel also said that the committee that reviews the schools' Family Life curriculum refused to admit a member of the county's Teen Pregnancy Task Force.

School Board member Bernadette Wagner denied that, saying Christoffel himself had attended the same session.

We agree with School Board member W. Edward Forrest that this is not just the school system's problem to solve, but the community's as well.

But the reality is that the schools have a captive audience to give students information that, based on a survey done last year, most parents don't communicate well with their children about.

Budget time is the perfect time for the commissioners to prompt the school system and the health department to set aside their differences, find out what has worked well elsewhere and implement it here.

If that means moving someone aside, then do it. This issue demands action, not another six months of flawed communication.

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