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