Cases of grandparents beating their grandchildren to death are, fortunately, quite rare in these parts; and it’s hard to draw many conclusions from the disturbing one that took place in Schenectady last February, for which Gloria Nelligan was convicted of murder on Tuesday.
But there is a rather unsettling aspect to the case, and that concerns the ages of the principals: grandmother Gloria, 43; mother Keila, 26; and victim Sha’hiim, 8. Gloria was obviously a teenager (17) when she bore Keila, and Keila was a teenager (18) when she had Sha’hiim. Could either have been a good mother at so tender an age?
Gazette files indicate a pattern of violence in Gloria Nelligan’s life that apparently affected her as well as her daughter. In a May 2007 story about grandparents raising their grandchildren, she told Gazette reporter Kathleen Moore that Keila had “seen her stepfather viciously beat her mother [Gloria] for years,” and that it had had an indelible effect on her daughter, “who grew up angry and ready to fight.”
Then, Gloria said, Keila got pregnant at 18, and was smoking marijuana, refusing to go to school or follow her mother’s rules. According to the story, “one day she moved in with a drug-addicted friend, leaving her baby behind.”
It is of course arguable whether Gloria’s age had anything to do with her poor decision-making and choice in mates; or in Keila’s, for that matter: Surely not all teens make bad choices or are bad parents even if they bear children. But there seems little doubt that a teen who, at best, has a high school education, and comes from a broken home where her parents have, at best, had high school educations — and who then is forced to raise her own baby — is facing seriously long odds.
This is the kind of scenario that has played itself out repeatedly, for generations, in Schenectady, where the teen pregnancy rate in select neighborhoods has far exceeded the national average. (Not surprisingly, the poverty rates in those neighborhoods are also off the charts.)
Yet it wasn’t until about a year ago that the Schenectady school district — which is saddled with having to educate the offspring from these often-dysfunctional households — started taking its responsibility in preventing teen pregnancies more seriously by making attendance in sex education classes mandatory unless the parent(s) opted out. In our opinion, it can’t take that responsibility seriously enough; not only does the district still need to update its sex ed curriculum and invite the likes of Planned Parenthood in to make sure students know the whys and wherefores, it should also do more to ensure that teens who do get pregnant learn a little about child-rearing before their babies arrive.
Yes, these are things that ideally should be left up to parents, but when they themselves are products of under-educated teen-parent households, someone else needs to step up. For the sake of the children, and the children they have, that should be the schools. This vicious cycle needs to be broken.