More than 100 times last year, students were suspended from the Rolling Crest Junior High School as disciplinary problems - but many teachers and parents at the West Hyattsville school felt that was not enough.
For more than three years, a group of teachers and parents contend, assaults, drug violations and vandalism have gone unnoticed and unpunished in many cases.
In fact, the problems with discipline at the Prince George's county school have become so widespread school officials have conceded the situation is a bad one and have changed principals and added an administrator for the coming school year.
The controversy over what the parents and teachers called the school's lack of discipline has raged for three years, since a group of 200 parents met with former principal Estee Wells to complain about lax enforcement of normal school rules and regulations.
The controversy resurfaced this week after news reports on the death of Kathleen Ann Murphy described the 13-year-old as a good student in seventh grade at Rolling Crest, only to flunk eighth grade.
A small group of parents appeared before the Prince George's County Board of Education Thursday night to say that in their opinion the "mental destruction" of Murphy could have been prevented.
"She (Kathy) was described as being a problem student, a user of drugs, class-cutter and an eighth grade repeater," Judith D. Griffin, chairman of the Concerned Parents of Rolling Crest, told the board. "What caused the destruction of this child? Why wasn't something done to prevent it?"
The parents group has maintained since it first met with Wells in 1975 to complain about the lack of discipline that numerous students deteriorate in and out of the classroom while at Rolling Crest.
"I knew Kathy and I watched what happened to her and others like her and felt helpless," said another parent, Judy Rogers. "This was a problem when my daughter was a student and still is.
"The administration has been overlooking drug abuse, vandalism and class cutting constantly.
Students come into the school with a lot of self-respect and respect for discipline and go out without either one."
School board chairman Norman H. Saunders said he was aware of the problems at Rolling Crest, but denied the parents' charge that the board had been "unresponsive."
"We are very aware of the problems at Rolling Crest and we have tried to work with teachers and parents from the school," Saunders said. "We've made changes. I don't think we've been unresponsive at all."
In July, Wells was transferred to Laurel Seniro High School at his request, according to school officials, throughout the controversy, Wells and his work were supported by the school's PTA and several teachers there.
Wells has maintained since the controversy began three years ago that Rolling Crest is no worse than other county schools. Yesterday, however, he said that he had some trouble there.
"I had two big problems," he said. "The first was only having two administrators in the school. Most of our schools have three. The second was teacher absenteeism. It's hard to carry out discipline with substitude teachers.
"A lot of times I only had time to deal with the hard-core problems and couldn't handle all the trouble that cropped up. But we never had any serious assaults. That's a documented fact."
Wells, 55, was replaced by Arthur L. Curry, 36. Wells said he asked for transfer, "because we weren't going to get any of our problems solved while I was the center of attention. I'd just had enough."
Curry said yesterday he is still trying to familiarize himself with the school and the teachers and will not make any changes until he has done that. He said he had met with Griffin twice to discuss the school's problems.
One teacher, who asked not to be identified, said yesterday that Wells was "a weak administrator and no one wanted to admit it until it was too late and things were out of hand."
Another teacher disagreed, saying Wells had been used as a "spacegoat. At a school like this, located where it is, there's no way two people can run the school alone."
Twenty-two of the school's 34 teachers drafted a letter to the board in June asking that Wells be transferred but decided not to send it because, according to one teacher, and several parents, they feared reprisals.
Schools officials recently added a third administrators at Rolling Crest. However, the angry group of parents say that the new principal are a start, but they should not be the end.
Board member Chester E. Whitting, who represents District 3 of the county school system, where Rolling Crest is located, said he thought many of the problems at the school stemmed fromlack of parental authority.
"We can't do all the work," he said. "The parents have to do some of the work. They let the kids hang around the school until all hours of the night. They just can't do that."