By Jennifer Lenhart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Shortly after the school day began Wednesday, more than two dozen students from Rockville High School skipped classes and gathered for an early morning party at the house of two siblings whose parents were not home.
The party did not last long.
By late morning, 26 students had been given breath tests, and 21 of them had been issued citations for offenses that included consumption of alcohol by a minor and possession and distribution of alcohol, police and school officials said.
All 26 -- two sophomores, two juniors and 22 seniors -- were suspended for two days, a punishment meted out by Rockville Principal Debra S. Munk. They were allowed back in class yesterday.
School officials said the suspended students included "many athletes," a class president and a student who had received a $50 Rotary Club award for good citizenship. The athletes were removed from their teams, the class president had to step down and the award winner had to forfeit the prize.
None of the students' names were released.
Parties such as this "have happened before," Munk said. But this time, Munk said, she was able to work on her hunch that the large number of students absent from school was not a coincidence.
After talking with students, Munk said she was able to pinpoint the likely location of the party. She dispatched the school-based police officer, along with two security assistants.
About 9:45 a.m., more than a half-dozen Montgomery County police officers arrived at the house as backup and to help administer blood alcohol tests.
"This is a situation that we were actually able to uncover a large gathering," Munk said. "We were able to spot it, and we had instincts, and the stars just kind of aligned where we were able to figure it out. The positive side was that the kids finally figured out that we're smarter than they thought we were."
The punishment was characterized yesterday as appropriate by some students, parents and teachers.
"I'm actually surprised because it wasn't as harsh as I thought it was going to be," said Cristina Chow, 17, a senior who said she was invited to the party but chose not to attend. "I actually think that's pretty lenient."
Michael Johnson, president of the PTA, said the incident had been "handled absolutely the right way."
Chow said that she hasn't talked to friends who went to the party because they've been suspended from school and several have been grounded by their parents.
"The attitude with seniors now is, for lots of seniors, school isn't one of their top priorities," Chow said. "They're getting senioritis."
The mother of one student who attended the party and was suspended said she thought that the incident was "handled appropriately" by school officials and police officers.
"It was a shock, and it was a good wake-up call," said the mother, who asked not to be identified because she wanted to protect the privacy of her child, who is a minor.
"If the kids hadn't been found out, I wouldn't have known about it and wouldn't have known what to do about it," the mother said. "Hopefully this is an incident that we can nip in the bud and put behind us."
Yesterday morning, Munk met with all 26 suspended students and their parents in the school auditorium for what Munk described as a "somber" meeting.
"The parents had a few questions, but overall they were not very happy with their kids," said Munk, who has been the Rockville principal for two years.
She said parents were concerned by the illegal drinking and by the fact that the party was going on during school hours, when they thought their teens were under school supervision.
"Many [students] had driven to the house, and if they were drinking, they were going to get in those cars and drive home," Munk said. "And that was just a recipe for disaster."