By Seth Daniel
The final decision on the controversial school contraception policy is headed to the November ballot after the Revere School Committee voted not to temporarily suspend the new policy that allows high school students to receive contraceptives.
On September 22, the School Committee voted at the beginning of its meeting to have RevereCARES form an advisory committee so that parents and community members could have their concerns about the program aired. However, a majority of school committee members refused to temporarily halt the contraception policy.
The School Committee voted in February to allow the Revere High School School-based Health Center run by Mass General to disburse contraceptives to students who are registered at the center and receive parental consent.
The contraceptives offered include condoms, birth control pills, birth control shots and the Morning After Pill.
The policy has become a real issue within the schools and looks to be the defining issue in this fall’s School Committee race – as present members of the Committee and challengers running for the committee all have decidedly polarized views on the matter.
At last week’s meeting, the issue was no less controversial.
The first bit of controversy lies in appointing RevereCARES to head the newly formed advisory committee. That was done by a vote of 4-3, with members Michael Ferrante, Ann Raponi and Fred Sannella voting against and Dan Maguire, Carol Tye, Mayor Thomas Ambrosino and Donna Wood-Pruitt voting affirmatively.
Those opposing the policy, and who organized the ballot question campaign, are saying that putting RevereCARES in charge of any advisory committee is a conflict of interest because Mass General runs the clinic and RevereCARES is a part of Mass General.
“I have no confidence that Revere Cares will be objective with regards to the policy being that they are a part of Mass General,” said Kathleen Magno, noting that her group now calls itself Our Teens, Our Schools. “My guess is that they will just back up the MGH and Superintendent Paul Dakin. I think they are being used as a shield.”
Mayor Tom Ambrosino, who also chairs the School Committee, said he had full confidence in RevereCARES.
“It’s far from being a conflict,” he said. “I think they’re the best organization to be in charge of the advisory committee. I think it will be an opportunity for parents and others to weigh in on the School Based Health Center…I don’t think we’re trying to avoid parental and community input.”
Meanwhile, the biggest surprise of the meeting was some very pointed language by Superintendent Dakin against the Catholic church.
Holding a Parish Bulletin from one of the local Catholic churches, Dakin said it was full of misinformation and lies and he went on to berate those who wrote it.
“They will stoop to anything to get their moral issue across and take away parents’ rights,” he said. “I have a problem with people lying over a podium.”
At that, Mayor Ambrosino reminded Dakin to stick to the motion and not to vent his frustrations during the meeting.
However, Dakin was still very upset, saying that there was a misinformation campaign being waged by the religious community.
“To see this written in a church bulletin is appalling to me,” he continued. “These are outrageous lies…If that goes into a bulletin, then what goes on the street?…People shouldn’t be lying from high places.”
At that, Ambrosino shut Dakin down, which might be the first time that’s happened in nearly 10 years.
“Ok, I’m going to have to shut you off and I don’t do that lightly,” said the mayor.
Meanwhile, Magno said that such banter between the superintendent and those opposed to the policy has been going on behind the scenes for some time.
“With regards to the continued attacks on the religious community, which seems to be coming mostly from Dr. Dakin, over 2,000 citizens of Revere signed the ballot petition,” said Magno. “Not all of them were Catholic or even religious. I’m going to let those numbers speak for themselves.”
Specifically, Dakin was irritated that the church bulletin indicated that the School Committee voted in secret on the new policy, and that junior high students were being served at the health center.
The vote was taken last February at a regular School Committee meeting. Though it was not listed on the agenda, it was televised. Many opponents have said that it was passed rather quietly for being such a controversial issue.
A small junior high school does exist in Revere High at the Seacoast Academy, but the students in that junior high typically do not participate in the services at the School-based Health Center.
The ballot question would have to have 1/3 of the city’s registered voters approve it for it to go into effect. It is not yet known how many registered voters there will be for November’s election, but a conservative estimate would mean that around 8,000 voters need to vote in favor of the question for it to succeed.
Mayor Ambrosino, a staunch opponent, said he didn’t expect it to pass.
“I don’t expect that it will pass,” he said. “I would be surprised if 1/3 of all registered voters even come out for this election.”