The mayor of a small New England city with a recent explosion in teen pregnancy said Monday officials still were not sure if high school girls made a pact to get pregnant.
"Any planned blood-oath bond to become pregnant — there is absolutely no evidence of," Gloucester (Mass.) Mayor Carolyn Kirk said at a press conference Monday held after a meeting of city leaders.
Gloucester High School Principal Joseph Sullivan had told a reporter for Time magazine in a story printed last week that some of 17 pregnant girls in his school had made a pact to raise their babies together.
"We have not been able to confirm the existence of a pact," Kirk said. "We are seeking to understand whether it is based in rumor or in fact."
Kirk said she was "uncomfortable" having Sullivan appear at the press conference because they hadn't been able to confirm the pact's existence with other school and health officials.
"He [Sullivan] was foggy in his memory of how he heard about the information," she said. "When we pressed him for specifics — about who told him, when was he told — his memory failed."
A closed meeting was held Monday morning at City Hall with other school, health and city leaders ahead of the press conference to discuss the situation.
Christopher Farmer, the superintendent for the Gloucester Public School system, speculated that there is a "distinct possibility" that the girls had pledged to help each other through their ordeals after they had become pregnant.
"'Was there any evidence of a pact that a group of girls were collectively intending to become pregnant?' is a different question from 'Were there a group of pregnant girls who by virtue of their common circumstance came together to talk about supporting one another as they bring up their babies?' Those are two different questions," Farmer said. "The Time journalist tells me that she did not distinguish between those two situations in her discussions."
City and school officials in this city of about 30,000 approximately 30 miles north of Boston have been struggling for months to explain and deal with the pregnancies, where on average only four girls a year at the 1,200-student high school become pregnant.
Just last month, two officials at the high school health center resigned to protest the local hospital's refusal to support a proposal to distribute contraceptives to youngsters at the school without parental consent.
"We need to do something. Period," said Greg Verga, chairman of the district's school committee, adding "we're going to discuss it as a committee with the public and some professionals to give us some recommendations and we'll see what we can do to avoid this down the road."
Kirk said budget cuts in the last six years has slashed services for students, including health education. The school district does not provide contraceptives for students.
But the heavily Roman Catholic town, which has a large Italian and Portuguese population, has long been supportive of teen mothers. The high school has a day care center for students and employees.
At the press conference Friday, Kirk and other officials refuse to answer direct questions about particular students, citing privacy concerns. Reports last week said some of the girls may have been impregnated by men in their 20s, including a 24-year-old homeless man.
State law, Kirk said, requires city and school health department officials to report suspected abuse or neglect of minors.
She said the city would cooperate if there were to be any investigations.
"Gloucester is not alone in wrestling with this issue," Kirk said. "Other cities in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have experienced sudden spikes in teen pregnancy rates in the last year."
Annette Dion, a 45-year-old private music teacher, said school and city officials should have done more to find out whether the girls truly made a pregnancy pact. She said denying such a pact existed is "pretty naive."
"I don't think we heard the truth today," Dion said, adding that pop culture has glamorized teen pregnancy, and movies and celebrity pregnancies do not give girls an accurate picture of parenthood.
"My personal feeling, my impression, is they probably talked and discussed and thought it would be cool to get pregnant together," she said.
Brendan Henry, a 17-year-old going into his senior year at Gloucester, said the attention surrounding the alleged pact has taken the focus off bigger issues facing young people, including school underfunding. Still, he did not doubt that a pact could have existed.
"It definitely sounds like something that would happen at Gloucester High School," he said. "It doesn't sound too far fetched at all."
FOXNews.com's Sara Bonisteel and The Associated Press contributed to this report.