As I review the birth control clinic controversy in Alexandria, it emerged as a modern day morality play. The Alexandria School Board didn't write, stage or cast the production. We didn't even buy tickets, but there we sat. The lights dimmed, the curtain rose, and the board unwillingly occupied front-row seats.
Act I: In December 1985, the Alexandria United Way and Youth Services Commission released their joint report on adolescent pregnancy and recommended 11 steps for community action. One recommendation read: "Study and explore the feasibility of the creation of a comprehensive school-based adolescent health clinic within or in close proximity of T. C. Williams High School based on the success of these clinics in reducing teen pregnancy in other jurisdictions."
The report floated around on the Christmas tide, and no one really paid too much attention during the holiday and school budget season. On Feb. 19, reacting to accusations of lack of interest, the school board asked our Family Life Committee and the school nurses to review and comment on the report. An alert reporter picked up this request, and the pace of Act 1 quickened.
Act 2: Suddenly everyone had an opinion -- everyone but the board, the Family Life Committee and the school nurses. Politicians, PTA officials and groups for and against birth control leaped on stage with various pronouncements. These actors couldn't wait for the school officials to read their lines and forgot the task force's other recommendations. The comprehensive health clinic disappeared, and all dialogue focused on birth control.
Brandishing swords, new actors appeared. The Annandale Women's Center announced that it would establish a clinic near T. C. Williams High School and dispense free birth-control devices to students. The Committee to Protect the Family and the Catholic Diocese of Arlington rose to denounce the planned clinic. These characters engaged in an emotional debate over the school board's responsibility to decrease teen-age pregnancies while also assuming responsibility for upholding the community's morals. The cast got pelted with overripe tomatoes; so did the audience.
Act 3: The audience has had enough. The board exits the theater. We have no space for a clinic, no funds to support it and the Annandale's Women's Center doesn't need our permission to establish one in an off-campus location. Furthermore, there are limits to how much a school system should be held responsible for.
The Alexandria school system has a nationally recognized family life education curriculum. We have set up and planned a comprehensive, age-appropriate curriculum for all grade levels taught by well- trained teachers. Our educational commitment is to teach children about their sexual and emotional development and to help them make informed choices regarding their sexual behavior.
However, the school day lasts six hours. Parents and community must take responsibility for the remaining 18.