Claiming that their constitutional rights are being violated, hundreds of students at Alexandria's T. C. Williams High School yesterday protested the lack of free parking spaces near the school.
"If they want us to attend classes they ought to provide parking for us," said Melinda Wallace, 16, who last week received three $10 tickets on her white Ford Maverick for illegal parking.
The protest yesterday in Alexandria, where students carried signs demanding more student parking space, contrasts sharply with the attitude of high school students in Manassas who've shown little resistance to a ban this year on driving to school.
The driving ban at Osbourn High in Manassas was imposed by school principal Victor Egidi to help save energy. It has been lauded as a conservation move that other area high school should follow.
In Alexandria, however, the parking impasse has arisen because of increased enrollment at T. C. Williams. There, school principal Robert A. Hanley says he sympathizes with the students especially those who hold after-school jobs and say they must drive.
"I support the students," said Hanley, who was the 210th person yesterday to sign the students' petition -- written on ragged pages torn from a spiral notebook -- calling for more parking space.
Hanley said a parking crunch was caused by the addition of 900 students who arrived at T. C. Williams this fall as the result of the city's school consolidation program.
In addition, the principal said, the parking problem was made worse because 70 parking spaces had to taken from the 311 spaces reserved for students and given to teachers who were added for new courses.
The combination of fewer spaces and more students has forced hundreds of student drivers to park illegally on school grounds, or on a winding road through a park adjacent to the school.
"We need our cars so we can get to work after school," said protester Mindy Rhoads, 16, who works each weekday at a beauty salon in the Landmark Shopping Center. Her last class ends at 11:50 a.m., and her job starts at about noon, she said."I'd get fired if I were late too much."
Like Rhoads, most of the students who hold afternoon jobs begin their school day at 8:20 a.m., one hour before city school buses can get them to school, Hanley said.
John Johnson, transportation coordinator for the Alexandria Public Schools, said the city's school buses are tied up delivering elementary school children to classes at 8 a.m. and are unavailable for the older students.
"It's a little unreasonable to expect us to duplicate existing bus schedules. They (the working students) know these (early morning) classes are voluntary. It's up to them to provide their own transportation," Johnson said.
Which is just the problem, students complained yesterday."If you want a (legal) parking space you've got to get here at 7:30 a.m.," said Tricia Rasmus, 16, a senior.
"If I took the regular (Metro) bus it would cost me $1 each morning, and then I might be late to work in the afternoon," said Rasmus, an aide in the dietary section of Alexandria Hospital.
Earlier this year the Alexandria City Council refused a school board request for a new $90,000 parking lot at T. C. Williams. Hanley said the new lot might have solved the problem.
One school official said yesterday parking will remain a problem because whether student "need to drive to school or not, at that age if they've got a car, they won't take the bus."