The principal of a Massachusetts high school at which 17 girls became pregnant announced his resignation today, but defiantly stood by his claim that some of the teenagers "intentionally" became pregnant and lashed out at the town's mayor for slandering "my reputation, my integrity and my intelligence."
Gloucester High School Principal Joseph Sullivan, in a letter to the school superintendent, wrote that he "gave a direct, truthful and honest answer" when he was quoted in Time magazine as saying that the multiple pregnancies were the result of deliberate and intentional behavior. Local officials and some of the girls had disputed that description, claiming at the time that the increased pregnancy rate was a coincidence.
Sullivan also slammed the mayor and superintendent for not coming to his defense when the scandal made headlines in June, saying that the lack of unqualified support made his job "next to impossible."
He emphasized that he was not forced out and that the decision to resign was his alone, adding "The ramifications of this whole episode on me and the people in my life who matter most, my family, have been devastating and the mayor's actions and the superintendent's public silence has forced me to recognize that I have neither the trust, confidence or respect of the mayor nor the superintendent," wrote Sullivan.
The principal ended the letter with some words of advice for the school's students that implicitly seemed to refer to the scandal: "Constantly check your moral compass and do what's right, even if you find yourself at times swimming against the tide."
News of the pregnancies at Gloucester High School made headlines earlier this summer after Time magazine published an article that included an interview with principal Joseph Sullivan and characterized the pregnancies as a "pact."
"I honestly do not remember specifically using the word 'pact' in my meeting with the Time magazine reporter, but I do specifically remember telling [reporter Kathleen Kingsbury] that my understanding was that a number of the pregnancies were intentional and that the students within this group were friendly with each other," Sullivan wrote in the Gloucester Daily Times at the time.
"My sources had informed me that a significant number of the pregnancies, especially among the younger students, were the result of deliberate and intentional behavior," he wrote.
Rumors about a pact had put local officials on the defensive. Mayor Carolyn Kirk denied there was evidence that the pregnancies were anything but a coincidence and blamed the increased number of teen mothers on a lack of health education funding and the "glamorization of pregnancy" in the media.
"Beyond the statement of the principal, we have no evidence there was a pact," Kirk said. "The principal could not remember who told him that."
Sullivan said he issued a statement to the Daily Times to "put to rest the notion that I am 'foggy in my memory' or that when pressed, 'my memory failed,' statements attributed to the mayor in her press conference this past Monday."
Sullivan said he had never met with the mayor to discuss his comments and that his information regarding the pregnancies was based on interviews with the school's former nurse practitioner and "verbal staff reports and student/staff chatter, all of which I have found to be very reliable in my experience as a principal and all of which I filter myself for accuracy and keep confidential."
One of the pregnant girls, Lindsey Oliver, 17, told ABC's "Good Morning America" in June that the pregnancies were not intentional but "unlucky" and a "coincidence."
"There was definitely no pact," Oliver, who became pregnant when she was a junior, told ABC News. "There was a group of girls already pregnant that decided they were going to help each other to finish school and raise their kids together. I think it was just a coincidence."
Oliver said the school should reverse a policy that bans the school's distribution of contraception to students.
"[Officials] say they want to make a difference but won't do anything to help [students]," Oliver said. "They should be giving contraceptives out in the nurse's office."
Asked if distributing condoms and birth control would further encourage underage sex, Oliver said, "The kids are obviously having it anyway; there are 17 pregnant girls."
Mayor Kirk said that district policy did not permit the distribution of contraceptives, but that the policy was under review.
Sullivan said in his statement and to Time that the distribution of contraceptives would not have curbed the number of pregnancies because the girls were actively working to get pregnant.
According to Sullivan, as quoted in the Time article, one girl had sex with a 24-year-old homeless man, although the mayor has said that there's no evidence of anyone committing statutory rape.
Gloucester, a socially conservative fishing town about 30 miles north of Boston, has struggled with teen pregnancy for years, although on average only four girls a year typically become pregnant at the 1,200-student high school.
In May, two officials at the high school health center resigned to protest the local hospital's refusal to distribute contraceptives through the school without parental consent.