Bethesda-Chevy Chase high’s Color Day turns violent; concerns on hazing

Color Day, a popular rite of passage sometimes known to students as “freshmen beat-down day,” resulted in injury and punishment at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School Thursday in what some students and parents said was an outbreak of hazing.

In a letter to parents Friday afternoon, Principal Karen Lockard reported that “a number of students engaged in very unacceptable behavior” during Color Day, including three students who were cited for alcohol possession and one who was disciplined for assault. A third incident is still under investigation.

“Let me be clear: Alcohol use, violence and intimidation will not be tolerated at B-CC and anyone who is discovered to have been involved in these behaviors will face serious consequences,” Lockard wrote.

Lockard and other principals have taken steps over the years to make such annual events safe for students amid a national crackdown on bullying. But Thursday’s incidents appeared to be a setback.

Police and school officials declined to elaborate on the reported assault, but several students and a staff member said that a freshman was beaten by an older student and might have suffered a cracked rib.

Fair warning

Color Day is a traditional part of Spirit Week, meant to stoke community support leading up to the annual homecoming game. Students demonstrate their pride by wearing class colors and spend the day using spray paint or markers to “tag” other students with their color. Freshmen are sometimes targeted by upperclassmen as a kind of initiation.

School administrators often trumpet warnings against bullying and vandalism during their morning announcements in the days before the event. Many have taken other precautions to protect facilities and students.

At Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, the administration in recent years has banned bringing spray paint to campus, said Alan Xie, a senior and the student member of the Montgomery Board of Education. “What we have been trying to do is create a condition at our school so that these type of things won’t happen,” he said.

Students said Lockard issued a similar prohibition, but it was largely ignored. At Langley High School in McLean, the principal mandated that all students wear the same color in an alternative “unity” day. Last year, though, students revolted with a spray-paint war and a food fight.

‘We weren’t scared’

Sebastian Medina-Tayac, a senior at Montgomery Blair High School, said Spirit Week is sometimes framed as a “freshman hell week” to incoming students, but the hype has outlived the actual tradition. Spirit Week at Blair this year went smoothly, he said.

At Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Sarah Cesnik Mejac, a parent of a graduate and a sophomore, said she worried that the behavior was getting worse. Her younger son was “slugged” on the bus on the way to school last year as a freshman during Color Day, and she was nervous about hazing again this year.

Freshman Ayele Ba’s white T-shirt was covered with tags by the end of the school day, including a “Fresh 15” tag that her twin sister gave her and giant 12 in blue and gold, tagged by seniors. Some older students were a little rough in the hallway, she said, but most of the hazing was reserved for boys.

“We weren’t scared,” she said. “We enjoyed it.”

The B-CC school day began Thursday with a “senior storm” as the class of 2012 stampeded the hallways. Some seniors tore down other class’s hallway decorations and pushed juniors or younger students out of their way, according to Brad Connell, an 18-year-old senior who spent most of the day wearing a helmet and a cross-country blanket as a cape.

Color Day ended with a pep rally, including a pie-eating contest, a “tug of peace” version of tug of war, and a water-balloon toss.

“It was in­cred­ibly fun,” said Connell’s friend, senior Anthony “Spike” Shore. “Everyone had a lot of spirit.” With the uptick in hazing and drinking this year, he and Connell worried that the event’s future could be at stake because a small group took it too far.

“I’m glad we are graduating this year, because Color Day’s probably going to get canceled,” Shore said.

Shore was wearing war paint on his face and blue and gold pajama bottoms with his senior-class T-shirt that read: “Senior SWAG” (teenagers’ translation: awesomeness) on the front. On the back it read: “The world’s not ending, we’re just taking over.”

Michael Alison Chandler writes about schools and families in Northern Virginia.
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