BETHESDA – Executive members of a local parent teacher student association voted unanimously to request clarification of school board policy for Montgomery County Public Schools and to support the school principal’s upholding of a school rule about behavior at the prom.
Members of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School Parent Teacher and Student Association said they were concerned about student safety and about what they perceived to be inconsistent responses to rules of individual high schools after MCPS Interim Superintendent Larry Bowers overruled Principal Donna Redmond Jones’ recent decision to forbid six students from attending graduation.
“Please clarify your policy and how it is implemented, in order to uphold the authority of Principals and ensure impartiality and consistency throughout all schools in the County,” members said in the petition to Bowers.
Bowers said seniors from a group of six students who allegedly consumed alcohol during B-CC’s prom could walk across the stage for graduation even though Jones told them they couldn’t.
Parents said Jones told students at the beginning and more than once during the school year that students who were caught drinking during the prom would not participate in the graduation ceremony.
MCPS spokesperson Derek Turner said he could not confirm whether a B-CC representative saw students drinking during the prom. He did not have information about who determined the students were drunk or how it was determined. MCPS did inform local police about the cases of underage drinking.
Bowers, who spoke to the students, said in his May 27 letter that the students consumed alcohol during the B-CC prom, however.
Turner also said he did not know whether any other students in MCPS were excluded from their graduation ceremonies this year so far.
In the petition, Bethesda-Chevy Chase PTSA members supported Jones for enforcing the school rule that students who consume alcohol during the school prom would not be permitted to walk across the stage for the graduation ceremony. They said they were not happy that the superintendent reversed what they thought was the right decision.
“We do not understand why it appears that certain principals in Montgomery County are allowed to exclude students who consumed alcohol or used drugs illegally at school-sponsored events from commencement ceremonies while others are not,” PTSA members said in the petition.
A few parents who attended the meeting said they thought Bowers was undermining Jones’ authority but that they did not want to be quoted.
Elly Sullivan, a B-CC parent, said she thought the superintendent and principal should have discussed the matter rather than one overturning the other’s decision. The way it was handled was “a mistake.”
“It probably sends a message that they are not on the same page,” said Sullivan. “(It’s) confusing to the community.”
Sullivan said she did not attend the meeting because her younger child’s school music concert was taking place at the same time.
Jake, a 17-year-old B-CC junior, said he did not have an opinion on the decision being overturned. He did not want to give his last name.
“I don’t think that students shouldn’t be able to walk,” Jake said.
He said schools can’t do much to enforce the rule other than suspend students and bar them from walking at graduation.
Jake said he plans to participate in the graduation ceremony because it would matter to his family.
“I don’t really want to walk anyway,” said Jake. “It’s more for my family than it is for me.”
Bethesda-Chevy Chase PTSA members met privately in the high school cafeteria Thursday evening to discuss their concerns and form their position as a group about how school leadership and Montgomery County Public Schools leadership responded to students drinking at the school prom. They asked members of the media not to attend.
Bowers said in a letter to the B-CC High School community May 27 that schools may not write in their policies that the principal may exclude students from commencement exercises for disciplinary reasons.
Board president Michael Durso (D-5) said in a statement on Friday, June 3, MCPS Board of Education members as a group do not want to operate with zero tolerance policies regarding student discipline.
“I know that I speak for my colleagues on the Board when I say that we pledge to work with our parents and adults in our schools to be more vigilant in our community and to use fair, equitable and consistent rules and guidelines to confront the problem of alcohol and drug use,” said Durso.
“We want to work with our schools to ensure there are structures and local school policies in place to keep students safe,” he continued. “We recognize and agree with the broader local, state, and national efforts to move away from zero tolerance student disciplinary policies.”
Bowers explained in the May 27 letter that principals may decide on a case by case basis to prevent students from walking at graduation, but then addressed the case of the B-CC students. Bowers said he met with the six students and reversed the principal’s decision by saying the students may participate in the commencement based on the circumstances and because they received “appropriate consequences under our discipline policy.”
Bowers is scheduled to retire from his position at the end of the MCPS fiscal year June 30.
Donna Redmond Jones is completing her first school year as principal of Bethesda-Chevy Chase, MCPS spokesperson Gboyinde Onijala said.
Jones declined to speak on the record regarding the incident. Turner and Onijala said this is because Bowers had spoken for the county in the May 27 letter.