F. Thornton Lauriat, who was suspended as principal of Bathesda-Chevy Chase High School after pleading no contest to a shoplifting charge, returned to his job yesterday and to a warm reception from both students and faculty.
Montgomery County School Supt. Charles M. Bernardo reinstated Lauriat on the condition that he undergo psychiatric counseling and meet periodically with two top school officials between now and June to determine if "he can continue to be effective as principal."
"We'll be looking to see whether the bad publicity will impair his effectiveness with staff, students or parents," a school official said. "We don't think it will, but we want to be able to deal with it immediately if it does."
Lauriat's suspension had become a cause among many students at the 1500-student school, some of whom felt that the suspension was unnecessary.
Lauriat pleaded no contest last month to a charge that he shoplifted $8.58 in staples and a cassett tape from a Giant store in Rockville. He has never publicly explained the incident and his reluctance to discuss it continued yesterday.
"Everyone has just been supper," he said. "I'm very thankful a being back. It feels good to be back."
A steady flow of students trooped into his office yesterday to welcome the popular principal and when he walked through the school cafeteria during lunch many reportedly came to him with words of encouragement and support.
During his suspension, Lauriat undewent a psychiatric evaluation and submitted a formal written statement about the shoplifting incident. A "strongly-worded" formal letter of reprimand was also placed in his personnel file, according to the schools' news release of Bernardo's decision.
In the memo, Bernando described Lauriat as "an outstanding principal . . . (whose) previous personal history is impeccable," and said "the chances of a repetition (of the incident) are negligible."
Although he declined to discuss either the shoplifting incident or the conditions of his return, Lauriat talked freely about being back at his post.
"I honestly didn't know whether I would be reinstated," he said of his forced leave, of absence, "but I knew wanted to be . I'm confident that with the support of the parents, students and faculty I can continue to be effective. I really do believe I can."
Lauriat said while at home he received many calls of support as well as a few that were critical. Mostly, he "attempted to keep busy and use my time as profitable as possible . . . doing household jobs, reading, writing, and being with my family.
Yesterday morning, in a brief speech to the entire school over the public address system, Lauriat apologized for his "serious mistake . . . (and) the embarrassment and suffering which it has caused."
Lauriat's return was enthusiastically applauded by students and staff interviewed yesterday.
"We're all glad to have him back," said senior Norice French. "He's a kind man and he's helped a lot of people here."
Junior Kim Hackett said she found Lauriat's apology "very touching. He was saying he was sorry and thanking us for our support."
When Lauriat was temporarily suspended, the school's faculty and the executive board of the Parent-Teacher-Student Association almost immediately sent letters protesting the action to the school board and Bernarde. The next day about 1,100 people signed petitions urging his reinstatement.
"We still respect him," said senior Paul Wollaston, in the midst of a lunchtime Frisbee game. "He doesn't just sit in his office. He gets out and mingles with students."
"He was received with open arms," said one staff member of Lauriat's return. "Why? Because he's a great guy. He takes the time to listen to you. He cares about the people here and he shows it."