The Los Angeles Board of Education has proposed on-campus contraception clinics as a way to reduce teen-age pregnancy and subsequent school dropouts, and has authorized a pilot project on one site.
The first test of the proposal came on Feb. 20, when the Hollywood High School Advisory Council voted on the subject. The council voted against the project. I found the stormy session particularly disturbing because it pitted two groups of decent and genuinely concerned individuals against each other. Both sides were motivated by the best of intentions: the proponents wished to bring health-care services to those in urgent need of them; the opponents wanted to preserve the authority of parents to protect their children against an increasingly amoral world.
This divisive confrontation will be repeated again and again in the coming months as the controversy spreads across our community and both sides step up their attacks. The end result can only be the polarization of an already unstable community and the paralysis of its efforts to improve our school system.
However, the whole situation is absurd. It does not matter whether the proposed pilot project succeeds or not; the program is doomed to failure because the cost of fully implementing it in every high school in the district would probably be over $15 million annually and neither the district nor the state and federal government is willing to spend that much. When this economic reality dawns on the board several years down the road, it will be forced to abandon the project. But teen-age pregnancy and school dropout will remain and it will continue to be a problem that demands our attention.
One alternative is for the board to rescind its proposal, reevaluate its current health-education curriculum, increase the number of school nurses and counselors, and network with various community agencies in order to achieve the main objectives of its original proposal. This can be done at a fraction of the cost and without creating the community-dividing furor inherent in the board's current proposal.
Conflicts among the various groups in this pluralistic society have hampered effective program development in the past and the board should appoint a community-based committee to study the teen-age pregnancy problem and develop a consensus for dealing with it in the schools. Recent experience with school desegregation and the year-round-school proposal clearly indicates that progress is very difficult without such a consensus.