Disputed Teen Pregnancy Stats Set Off Alarms
A Virginia State Department of Health brochure released last spring indicating that the City of Falls Church had the third highest rate of teenage pregnancies in the state in 2004 has set off alarms in the school system here. One result has been the organization of a public “Adolescent Sexual Health Forum” for parents on Oct. 26 that’s a first of its kind for Falls Church City Schools
While members of the system’s citizen volunteer Family Life Education Advisory Committee have been unable to determine the complete accuracy of the state’s statistics, the brochure was “the direct inspiration” for the upcoming forum, Melanie Elliott the of the City schools, told the News-Press this week.
The state’s data indicates that in 2004 there were 40 teenagers who went through “induced termination of pregnancy (ITOP)” that listed their home residence as in the City of Falls Church.
While some have questioned whether the state, as is often the case, failed to adequately distinguish between the City of Falls Church and surrounding areas of Fairfax County considered “greater Falls Church,” the uniform state questionnaire the girls were asked to fill out have a place to check either “City” or “County.” The 40 cases all checked “City.”
It is also not known whether or not some girls listed the City as their home residence because they were staying at a teen or pregnant girls’ group home here. In recent years, new laws have prohibited the state from asking for specific information about the home address of a teen seeking an “ITOP.”
“I don’t want to get caught up in a debate over how many are actually Falls Church girls,” Elliott commented. “I think any way you add it, there’s an important issue here that needs to be addressed.”
In a flier that students were asked to take home to their parents this week, the Oct. 26 forum is promoted as follows: “To help you and your children prepare to make the best possible decisions, you are invited to attend a special forum on Adolescent Sexual Health…Come and learn from a panel of experts about the choices our sons and daughters are making, what consequences they face because of their actions, and what resources are available in the community to help them choose wisely and take care of themselves.”
Another pressing need related to the issue is volunteer participation on the Family Life Education Advisory Committee, itself. Right now, there are only seven citizens on the committee, even though School Board policy is to allow for 12 to 16 members.
“Generally, members of this committee are individuals with children in the schools, but not always,” Elliott said.
She confirmed, ironically, that a number of the current members on the board have opted their children out of aspects of the existing family life curriculum in the school system.
That program runs from kindergarten through the 10th grade and parents do have the option to opt their children out of all or parts of it if they’re not comfortable with the subject matter being taught.
Citizens can apply for an appointment by the School Board to the board simply by contacting the School Board offices at any time.
The Oct. 26 forum will be held at 7:30 p.m. at the cafetorium of the Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School. Panel speakers will include Judy Becker, the City schools’ coordinator of student services, Gale Grant, director of the Adolescent Sexual Health Program for the Virginia Department of Health, Melanie Chalmers, Fairfax County Public Health Nurse, and Vicki Galliher, Falls Church City schools’ Health and Family Life Education Curriculum Instruction Resource Teacher. More information is available at (703) 248-5607.