The battle over birth control - Contraceptives in schools. DuSable clinic at heart of controversy.
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Although New York City's nine clinics have been involved in birth control for some time, out-and-out criticism just recently began to be voiced there. And in New England, Boston and neighboring Cambridge are crackling with debate, trying to decide whether it's a good idea to play follow the leader on this issue.Skip to next paragraph
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The first clinic of this sort opened at Mechanic Arts High School in St. Paul, Minn., in 1973, at a time when 79 out of every 1,000 female students in the school had babies. By 1976 the school birth rate had dropped to 35 out of 1,000. Although Mechanics Arts High School has since closed, four other St. Paul high schools have clinics, recording a teen birth rate of 26 out of 1,000 female students in 1984.
In that same year, DuSable had definite teen pregnancy problems. The school - with approximately 1000 male and 1000 female students - draws more than half its population from the city's Grand Boulevard area. In 1984, the Grand Boulevard area recorded that 436 females between the ages of 10 and 19 gave birth. About 300 of these were to high school age women.
``Kids today, you'd rather they used them [contraceptives] than not,'' says Simpson, the grandmother in a jaunty blue hat, who twists the handle of her pocketbook as she talks, visibly embarrassed about the whole topic, but convinced she should add her soft two-cents' worth to the pro-clinic chorus.
``When they [teen-agers] have the babies, they expect the mother or grandmother to take care of them,'' she says. And this particular grandmother doesn't view that set-up as a desired family situation. Retired since last year from a food-service job, Simpson says, ``I'll do what I can to help, but ...'' and she lets her sentence fade midway.
``It [DuSable] could have been a school for pregnant women,'' says Tyrone Cotton, a senior who has six brothers and three sisters. ``Some say it [dispensing contraceptives] encourages sexual activity,'' but the 18-year-old student doesn't agree with that charge, explaining that this particular lifestyle already was prevelant before the clinic opened. ``Anyway, now I see less pregnancy,'' he says.
But retired high school teacher and plaintiff Stull doesn't feel these ends justify the means, because she does ``not approve of lowering standards to fit the conditions. A parent who knows his kid is stealing doesn't say, `I'll teach you how not to get caught.''' Instead, says Stull, the parent keeps trying for reform.
According to Stull, who taught for 28 years in the Chicago Public Schools, the present contraceptive policy is ``basically saying: we don't care what you do, just don't get pregnant. It's as if schools have joined the soap operas. I can't see using the authority of the schools to condone immorality,'' she adds.
The DuSable-Bogan clinic is still too young to assess its effectiveness in stemming teen pregnancy, anyway. ``We have no statistical data yet, but unoffically, it seems less,'' says Mrs. Davis-Scott. ``I can tell you we're not giving prenatal care to 300!'' At present, 15 female students are receiving this prenatal help.
Donna McGruder is one of these. She's 18, unmarried, and expecting in December.
``The clinic, it helps me a whole lot. And they treat you with respect,'' says the DuSable student whose eyes look up, down, beyond but not at her listener. Donna says she wants the baby although she's ``scared to have it. My friends make me scared,'' she says.
Living with her grandmother, the teen-ager tells that her own mother visits sometimes ``and stays for a while, then she goes away.'' Donna, who has plans to work while her grandmother cares for the newborn, has already started job hunting but no leads have turned up yet.
``It's [teen pregnancy] a problem of poverty, not a racial problem,'' says Judith Steinhagen, DuSable's white principal, who has held that post for nearly 12 years. A national survey from the Children's Defense Fund (CDF), in Washington, D.C., backs her up on this point, stating that US teen-agers who are poor and who lack basic academic skills - whether they're black, white, or Hispanic - have nearly the same rates of teen-age childbearing. The CDF report states that impoverished teens are four times as likely to have poor basic skills as teens with family incomes above poverty. And that teens with poor basic skills are five times as likely to become mothers before age 16 as those students with average basic skills.