Fur Flies After School Food Fight

By Susan DeFord
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 11, 2008

It was the second lunch period of the day at Wilde Lake High School in Howard County when the food began to fly.

Horseplay between a few friends escalated, and soon sandwiches, bagels, lettuce, drinks and foam trays were whizzing through the air. Two trash cans overturned, one spilling its contents. Students rushed out of the cafeteria as administrators rushed in.

No one got caught.

After two days, the culprits had not been apprehended, and Principal Restia Whitaker announced that he would give $30 in "crisp new bills" to students for each name of a perpetrator they provided.

That didn't go over well. "We were yelling. We erupted," said Alex Kolodner, a junior, describing the reaction in his physics class. "We were talking about walking out of the school."

There was no walkout after the Dec. 12 food fight, but an intense debate erupted within the Columbia school community over whether administrators should reward students for informing on misbehaving peers. Last month, the student newspaper, the Wilde Lake Paw Print, published three columns by students critical of the principal's offer.

"I find the administration's recent use of monetary incentives considerably more frightening than a food fight," wrote editor Katherine Driessen, a senior.

Rachel Whitcomb, a junior, was one of five students who filed a written complaint with the school administration hours after Whitaker's Dec. 14 announcement.

"We wanted our opinion to be heard," she said. "It was not okay to bribe us to turn in people."

Philip Soergel, a parent who complained to Howard schools administrators about the principal's offer, said: "We were aghast. I had never heard of this. Kids are getting these kinds of lessons in how to tattle on one another."

Patti Caplan, a spokeswoman for the school system, said paying students for information happens at a few Howard schools "a couple times a year." She said schools have offered rewards when working with the police in vandalism cases.

"We have no guidelines on it," she said. "It's just left up to the administrators if they feel the situation is serious enough to warrant this."

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