Comments by Mayor Marion Barry Sunday that he found flagrant drug use and excessive noise at Cardozo High School during a recent visit have triggered a vigorous defense of the school by its students and faculty who largely maintain that Cardozo has kept its academic standards high, despite some problems.
In a sermon at All Souls Unitarian Church, Barry recalled an October visit to Cardozo. "I wasn't sure I was in a school or where I was, really, there was so much noise, so much going on in the hallway and in the classroom that anybody who wanted to learn couldn't learn," Barry said. He also said he found widespread drug use in restrooms.
His comments were quoted in The Washington Post yesterday.
Cardozo students, teachers and administrators said yesterday that the school often is noisy and that there is some drug use in the school. But they said Barry's statements were unfair because the situation at Cardozo has been improving and because most of the city's public high schools have some problems with drugs and noise.
They also defended the academic record of students at the school, one of the largest in the city.
"I think we need to accentuate the positive, rather than the negative," said history teacher Mary Coffee. "I don't think it's fair for Mr. Barry to judge a whole student body by a very small number of students who may smoke marijuana.
"The test of the education here is that our students graduate and go to universities all over the country, where they do very well," Coffee said.
Waverly E. Jones, acting principal of Cardozo, said that Barry came to the school on Oct. 12, when a special assembly was being held to honor several students for their outstanding academic achievements.
"Mr. Barry arrived just as the assembly was breaking up and large numbers of students were in the halls," Jones said.
"Going to Cardozo is like going to any other high school," said a female student who shared a marijuana cigarette yesterday with two male friends in the hallway outside the school cafeteria. "Some students smoke pot and sometimes we get noisy. But that doesn't mean we don't learn."
The three students stood near their lockers smoking, laughing and talking. They quickly hid their crumpled brown cigarette when ever a faculty member or the principal passed by.
A walking tour of Cardozo, which has an enrollment of 1,700 students, a faculty of 67 and three assistant principals, turned up occasional clouds of marijuana smoke in hallways, especially near stairwells and restrooms.
Although there were some students in the hallways at all times, noise levels were high only during the changing of classes.
"When I first started at Cardozo two years ago, I was like the rest of the 10th graders. I said that Cardozo was nothing," said Wilbert King, 17, now a senior. "But after a while you begin to appreciate Cardozo. You see that there are some good teachers and they want to see you learn.
Naomi Taylor, 17, an 11th grader, said she believes Barry exaggerated in his comments about Cardozo. "It's true that we have a few people who cut class and some who smoke," Taylor said. "But you can't forget about the students who don't do those things and are doing very well in their classes."
Marian Flagg, Cardozo's college counselor who is on sabbatical this year, said that Cardozo has an impressive record of students who go on to college and professional careers.
"On the average about 40 percent of our students have been going on to two-and four-year colleges," said Flagg. She said that in the last seven years, Cardozo graduates have gone to 76 colleges across the country, including several Ivy League colleges.
Asked to respond to student and faculty charges that his evaluation of Cardozo was unfair, Barry said yesterday that he could have made similar comments about many other schools in the city.
"What I was saying is indicative of my concern for the general state of public education in the District of Columbia," Barry said.
"It's no secret that our schools are not as good as they could be, should be, or will be," he said. "We have conscientious students, teachers, parents and administrators. And they, of course, are not the problem. But I think we all recognize that we all have to do a better job for our kids.
"So while I'm not sorry that I said what I did, I am sorry that the good students and teachers felt they were unfairly singled out," Barry said.