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Blacks' Long Anxiety Over Churchill Grows

"I have not seen gangs around here," said Elizabeth Ortega, director of the Scotland Community Center, in the heart of the small black enclave. "I don't even see the police. If they were doing those things, the police would be here."

The dispute at the center of Wednesday's arrests began in the fall, when a female Churchill student walked into a classroom and poured a sports drink over the head of her estranged boyfriend, his parents said. The romantic feud escalated into a series of confrontations between the boy and his friends, all from Scotland, and a group of boys from another part of town who were loyal to the girl.

The confrontations continued after the holidays and moved beyond the girl into "an us-against-you mentality," Benz said yesterday. Wednesday's fight began between two boys in the cafeteria and moved to a bus loop along Gainsborough Road, eventually involving six students. One student and a security guard were treated for scratches and bruises.

Benz stressed yesterday that not all the students suspended in the fight, all for 10 days and with a recommendation for expulsion, were from Scotland. She said she made reference to the school's black students in her letter to parents after hearing negative comments about the school's black population from students and parents. Her letter mentioned rising SAT scores for black Churchill students.

"I was just really upset that so many students had seen this fight, and I was hearing so many negative comments about African American kids," she said.

Parents and relatives within the Scotland community say the arrests -- and the letter -- fit a pattern of disparate treatment that stretches back decades to when they were in school.

"A black student from Scotland Drive is different from a black student from Potomac -- ridicule, disrespect and just hatred, not by the students, but the administration," said Tina Owens, mother of a 16-year-old boy charged in the fight.

"They have a whole group of children they have chosen to leave behind, and it's disgraceful."

Owens said school administrators recently created a dress code that applied only to her son and his friends and used it to suspend him when he wore a red-and-black Michael Jordan cap. She said her son was put in special education with some of his friends from Scotland and repeatedly urged to transfer to an alternative school.

"They're targeting every [Scotland] kid that's coming through here," said Freeman, the mother of another Churchill student.

Benz said all students have been treated equally.

At Churchill, where about a half-dozen TV trucks greeted students yesterday morning, the fight -- and clothing restrictions set to go into effect Monday -- were the main topics of conversation. Rachel Northridge, 17, said she feared the publicity would give people the wrong impression about what she said is a good school.

"It hurts -- now people are saying we're racist," she said.

Staff writer Ernesto LondoƱo contributed to this report.


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