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Administrators, Students React to Whitman Suspensions

Administrators and students from four Montgomery County schools react to 36 Whitman students being suspended from extracurricular activities for drinking at an off-campus party.

 

Three dozen students at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda were suspended from extracurricular activities resulting from an off-campus, underage drinking incident, the Gazette reported in early January.

Whitman Principal Alan Goodwin interviewed several students after picking up on school gossip and Facebook chatter and was able to identify the students cited by Montgomery County Police for alcohol possession at the house party Dec. 10, according to the report.

This raised the question: What jurisdiction do schools have to punish students for their actions away from school?

Patch caught up with administrators from Wootton and Quince Orchard and students from Whitman, Wootton, and Bethesda-Chevy Chase regarding Goodman’s decision and subsequent punishment of the 36 students.

“I think it was handled the right way,” Wootton Principal Dr. Michael Doran said. “The bottom line is parents and schools both need to send out the same consistent message that drinking is not just a mistake or a bad decision, it is against the law and can have life and death consequences.”

Many of the students in question at Whitman were athletes, Doran said, adding that Wootton has similar policies in place for its sports teams.

“If the students are representing the school in athletics the students sign a pledge that if they are caught drinking during that season there will be a consequence to this behavior,” he said. “All situations are a little different and the circumstances are taken into account. If it is off campus but a school activity, MCPS has a policy to cover that situation.”

Quince Orchard Principal Carole Working said she supported Goodman’s decision to suspend the students from extracurricular activities, but she would not have actively investigated herself.

“If it is brought to me, I will do my job,” Working said, adding that in the past, some students who escaped trouble were “thrown under the bus” by those who had not.

While the administrators stand firmly behind Goodman’s decision, the students were less united.

Dominique Meier – a Whitman freshman – said she believed her principal crossed the line.

“I think suspension was too much. The cops came and I think that was enough for them to get the message," Meier said.

Patch student blogger and B-CC senior Claire Cohen said most of her classmates agree with Meier.

“People have actually been talking about that incident at school and most of them, including myself, agree that the school shouldn't be able to have jurisdiction over those matters, since it's clearly happening outside of school,” Cohen said. “Personally, I think that suspending someone from a couple games for drinking is pretty ineffective in preventing teen drinking."

Meanwhile, another Patch student blogger had other ideas.

“I think it's acceptable for the principal to take action because regardless of the fact that the activity was done off campus, the students represent Whitman and the principal has a right to suspend people for marking the school's reputation,” Wootton junior Mia Saidel said.

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Chevy Chase Patch editor Laura L. Thornton and North Potomac-Darnestown Patch student blogger Mia Saidel contributed to this report.

Ras January 19, 2012 at 06:20 PM
Where is the line? The students were punished for being arrested for being at a location with alcohol "for alcohol possession" not actually drinking. Should everyone including students, teachers, parents, and coaches be suspended from participation in extracurricular activities (including the arts) for any arrest? Just asking? My line and your line, and the Principal's line may be quite different!
Louis Lombardo January 19, 2012 at 06:42 PM
Thanks for this good and important article. Here's why I think it is an important article: 1. Teens are just learning to drive. See http://www.safeyoungdrivers.com/ 2. Alcohol is more of a problem than most realize. 3. Alcohol has insidious properties that inhibit the exercise of good judgement from the very first drink. This can be devastating in teens whose brains are still developing self control judgement. 4. Too many of us are not aware of the additional properties of alcohol of addictiveness and carcinogenicity. Prudence dictates we do all we can to protect our teens, their families, and ourselves.
Jeff Hawkins January 19, 2012 at 07:51 PM
Seems abit over-the-top to me.....kinda snoopy and neurotic on the Principals part. Perhaps he has too much time on his hands, listening to "gossip" and surfing "Facebook"? It was a police matter......
Online addict January 19, 2012 at 08:17 PM
Understand the facts of teen drinking and the rules of the County and the actions of the prinicipal are in line with protecting the students. School administrators and police are working to make teens understand the rules and keeping them from injuring themselves and others. It's not just a police matter, it is a community matter. Those teens who drink and drive end up on the same roads as you and your friends and family. These are typically good, even great kids, who make bad choices. There needs to be consequences for these bad choices. The goal is to educate and eliminate as many bad decisions as possible. In addition to alcohol poisoning, drinking and driving, there are the many instances of sexual assaults occur among teens who are drinking, where the females are typically victims with no recourse because of the alcohol involved. So, is the Principal overstepping his bounds when he works feverishly with the police representatives who want to eliminate the knock on a parent's door to inform them there child is "in the hospital with life threatening injuries", "come identify your son/daughter", explain the loss of a fellow student, etc. The Principal is the adult representative that the kids can count on for stern discipline when it is truly needed. The focus needs to be on the adults who allow teens to experiment with alcohol. Research teen brain functions and the effects of alcohol and it is the fool who ignores the facts
Jeff Hawkins January 19, 2012 at 08:36 PM
Joe: "The goal is to educate and eliminate as many bad decisions as possible." Perhaps we should eliminate any decision making at all for our teen citizens. it's the only way to be sure Joe. I think you're getting a little melodramatic with all the possible scenarios you site. The issue is the Principal overstepped his boundary........
Online addict January 19, 2012 at 08:48 PM
No, I was at the meeting with the police officer relating the details of teen drinking parties in this area and the number of alcohol deaths, from drinking alone, for those under 17. And in the case of the Principal's actions, most of the students came to him and admitted their actions, he did not seek them out or ask for snitches. Additionally, a large percentage of parties are stopped because concerned teens come forward for fear of losing friends to alcohol-related incidents. The community is teaching these teens what is right and what is wrong. And, on any given night there are lots of weekend parties were teens have fun and alcohol is not involved, but no one hears about these events. There is no elimination of decisionmaking, there are consequences for bad decisionmaking! Melodramatic, you would be too if you had children enter this phase in their lives. In the 60s the Marlboro man was cool; then we learned the effects of smoking; would you recommend we let kids smoke and not give them the facts? Drinking and teens seemed cool, now we know the development of the brain and the effects of alcohol. Do you stand on the banks and watch a struggling person drown, or do you jump in and lend a hand? I believe I will jump in! Call me Mister Melodramatic, please!
Jeff Hawkins January 19, 2012 at 08:53 PM
Joe: OK...........you are Mister Melodramatic.................. The issue: The Principal overstepped his boundary.
Theresa Defino January 19, 2012 at 08:56 PM
I completely disagree with this principal's actions. No one is FOR teenage drinking. But let's violate these minors' privacy rights upon arrest by suspending them. When they apply to college they wouldn't have to report an expunged arrest. A suspension? Yes. The comments in the Gazette make me ill. Where is the outrage when it's not rich kids who are drinking? Take the case of the kids who were killed on New Year's eve. Not a single follow-up story. Hold the adults accountable--the parents--and let the police handle those arrested.
Online addict January 19, 2012 at 09:06 PM
Sorry Jeff, I disagree. Everyone of those teen drinkers is given a citation. As students of the school, they participate in extra-curricular activities with the knowledge that if they break rules or laws there will be consequences. These incidents called for a 2-game suspension. They made the decision to abide by these rules. They broke the rules. They do the time. Do you know what the rules are for teens or adults who drink on school grounds? You may not know but the students do; they are taught the rules and they can choose to break them. They are not banned from school, they are banned from participating in events associated with the school. The Principal is the head of the school and is following the rules that the teenagers have agreed to abide by. And let's not forget, many of these teens come to the principal on their own accord, because they respect the leaders of their school. You may not understand how the County rules work. These "drinking" parties lead to real citations! Everyone of these offenders will need to report this on their college applications, and for seniors who have already received scholarships, they run the risk of losing them! And the adults, the current fine for the adult host is $3,000 for every underage drinker, and a CRIMINAL citation. I believe the response should be "Which adult has UNDERstepped the boundary and led the young astray, just so they could be the COOL parent?"
Online addict January 19, 2012 at 09:24 PM
The suspension is for extra-curricular events, not school. Every student who enrolls\participates in these events signs a form that they will adhere to certain standards, one of which involves drinking off school grounds. Nobody's rights were violated! These teens broke the rule, most of the them self-reported their actions and they are paying the penalty. As to expulsion of records, that happens at age 18. The vast majority of those applying for colleges scholarships must fill out an application in their junior year. In most cases, one of the questions asked whether they have received any citations, specifically if they are alcohol related. Check with the Montgomery County Police officer in charge of teenage drinking parties, I believe his name is Officer Morrison. He has facts and figures that would scare any parent! Including students who have had their applications rejected and others who lost full scholarships.
Theresa Defino January 19, 2012 at 09:27 PM
I can read and knew what the suspension was for, and I am pretty sure Jeff can also. The story said the principals have discretion about how to handle this, otherwise we wouldn't even be debating the propriety of his actions.
Online addict January 19, 2012 at 09:32 PM
SO, the kids agree to abide by rules. The kids break the rules they agreed to, the Principal gives them a 2- game suspension. I am missing where the Principal overstepped his bounds? Or any instance where rights were violated?
Jeff Hawkins January 20, 2012 at 01:12 PM
Joe: "I am missing where the Principal overstepped his bounds?" Yes ....that's true. The Principals authority ends at the school boundary line. Was the Principal actually on Facebook looking for information? From the story, it sounds like he was..........that to me sounds kind of creepy. It was a police matter......
Online addict January 20, 2012 at 01:28 PM
Jeff, as parents we look to teach our children lessons. Lesson 1, companies check Facebook when looking at potential candidates for hire; you post a picture of yourself in a stupid way, you could lose a potential job. Don't be naive, it is a given fact; understand Facebook is out in the PUBLIC domain. Further, you get cited for drunk driving, you get your picture in the paper, the news, your employeer has the right to let you go in the state of Maryland! Let the kids learn their lesson now! Folks who choose to post, choose to be viewed, choose to be judged. Don't wave the red flag of stupidity and not expect the bull of consequences to come charging through your door. The Principals authority stretches as far as his community allows it! Those who were suspended granted him the right by agreeing to the rules of extracurricular activities, they signed a contract that grants the Principal the right to suspend them based on inappropriate actions on and off the school grounds. The students gave him that right, nothing creepy. The creepy part is adults, who think teenagers violating the state law of drinking is cool! Students who don't wish to engage in extra-curriculer activities might be a different story. That is not the case here, students have been suspended from extra curriculer activities because they broke the contract they agreed to uphold! It is a community matter! It affects everyone, kind of the reason why we have laws, isn't it?
Jeff Hawkins January 20, 2012 at 02:03 PM
Joe, The issue: The Principal overstepped his boundary........ It was and is a police matter...... Kind of the reason we have police, isn' it?
Louis Lombardo January 20, 2012 at 04:04 PM
Wow! I don't know who Joe Busch is but as a grand father of four Montgomery County teens, I am glad that he provided this wisdom to our community. Thanks to him and to Patch! Suggestion to Patch: Add a button so that we can recommend comments we agree with. The NY Times does it. Lou Lombardo
Ben Schumin January 21, 2012 at 01:34 PM
As I see it, if it was a school sponsored function but held off the property, then the principal has every right to take action. However, if the event was not a school sponsored function and the incident happened off of the property, the school is outside of its jurisdiction and if it views some sort of official action as necessary, it should only do so in an advisory role to these students' parents, i.e. "hey, this was brought to our attention, and [whatever]." I'm sure many of these students have loving parents who would flip anyway if they found out that their students had been drinking.
Brigitta Mullican January 24, 2012 at 05:07 AM
Totally agree with Joe Busch. If students sign a pledge, know there are consequences to their behavior and go against the rules, they have to accept the punishment and not be allowed to participate in extracurricular activities. Each students needs to know the commitment they make when signing the required forms. This story should be a message to other students thinking of going against the rules.
Rob Saah Technology Enterprise's January 29, 2012 at 04:43 PM
if its outside of the school, the schools should mind there freaking business, and stop getting into peoples business outside of school, What happens out of school stays out of school, there for the schools need to stay out of it.

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