- The Washington Times - Monday, March 20, 2006

BALTIMORE (AP) — Students and teachers at a school for teen mothers say they fear budget and staff cuts are a prelude to closing the school, which has nurtured young moms for four decades.

The Laurence G. Paquin Middle/High School in East Baltimore has had its staff cut nearly in half over the last year because of budget cuts.

Teachers say the cuts have led to declining enrollment, and school system officials want to move the successful program into buildings at nearby Lake Clifton High School.

Paquin supporters say they fear the move will lead to its eventual closure, noting the new location would be cramped and unable to support the school’s medical clinic and preschool.

“The wolf’s at the door,” Brian Hoffman, who has taught at Paquin for five years, told the Baltimore Sun.

The city’s school board is scheduled to vote next Tuesday on a proposal to move Paquin and Hamilton Middle School to Lake Clifton.

City Council member Mary Pat Clarke said she questions the wisdom of the move, noting that when she visited Lake Clifton she found only 13 empty classrooms, most of them in need of major renovation.

Phillip H. Farfel, a former city school board president who helped develop a medical clinic at Paquin, said the recommendation “shows a total lack of understanding” of the needs of the girls and children the Paquin school serves.

School system officials, meanwhile, say they are spending nearly $1.2 million this year on the school, which serves 135 girls and babies in a large building whose small classes are the envy of other schools.

While the school was once the only public school in the city for pregnant girls, teen pregnancy has become more socially acceptable and day care centers at high schools are commonplace.

“It’s definitely a dying breed,” said Pat Paluzzi, president and chief executive of the Washington-based Healthy Teen Network, a national group focused on teen parenting and pregnancy prevention.

However, Miss Paluzzi said support for pregnancy-prevention programs is easier to find than services for pregnant and parenting teens.

“If you do get pregnant, we kind of wash our hands of you,” she said. “It’s the kids of teen parents who are at the greatest risk of being teen parents themselves, for dropping out of school, for committing crime, for living in poverty. If we wash our hands of them, we’re never really going to get a handle on the issue.”

Teen pregnancy is down in Baltimore recently, but remains high.

The city Health Department reported 1,686 babies born to mothers under age 20 in 2004, the most recent data available, compared with 2,228 in 1999.

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