Christine Davis says her 16-year-old daughter Michelle walks the halls of Suitland High School in fear these days.
"I can admit right now, I am very afraid," Michelle said yesterday. "People are running their mouths. They're saying, 'Today's the day.' "
Michelle is afraid of a recurrence of disturbances between black students and white students that prompted a group of white parents to withdraw their children from the predominantly black school for several days, arguing that racial tensions have made the school unsafe.
Most of the students returned to the Prince George's County school last week, and school administrators say problems have died down. But additional security remains at the building and investigators continue looking into the incidents reported by students.
"We are watching it very carefully," said Assistant Superintendent Gloria Bolds, administrator of the area office that oversees the school. "My promise is that we would investigate and would take whatever steps to make sure that our schools are safe and secure."
The troubles began with a fight between two white youths March 7, Bolds said. A number of other students, white and black, joined in the fight. Shortly after, a fight broke out between Michelle, who is white, and some black girls, during which Michelle was struck with a chair and injured, according to her mother.
As a result, Davis kept Michelle out of school for the next three school days, and as many as 10 other students also stayed home because of the tensions, Davis said. School officials said they could not determine precisely how many students stayed home because of the fights.
In the meantime, officials have been told of other, smaller fights, of students being threatened at school, and of disturbances on the school grounds. "There's something going on at Suitland that shouldn't be going on there," said Davis. "The kids say you can feel the tension walking in the hallways."
Suitland Principal Walter Battle said the problems have involved only a small number of the school's 2,150 students, 86 percent of whom are black. "The school is not out of control," he said. "We don't have a high level of tension. We don't."
Officials said the two youths involved in the initial fight were suspended. Also, security guards arrested two youths -- one who had been suspended from Suitland and the other who had been suspended from another county school -- when they came on the Suitland grounds Monday, according to Peter Blauvelt, security chief for the county schools. The normal contingent of two security guards has been doubled, he said.
"These things have a tendency to snowball," said Blauvelt. "There are some really deep-seated feelings here on both sides. All it took was the appearance of a black-white fight; then everybody perceived it was a racial fight."
Davis organized a meeting Monday night, attended by Bolds and two dozen parents. "They are parents that are scared, they are parents that are concerned," said Doris Lehnen, who attended the meeting.
Davis said she and other parents were frustrated with school administrators, who they felt had been unresponsive to their concerns.
"I think the bottom line is the administration. They have let it get so bad. These kids have been beaten. They have been threatened," said Davis. Battle, she said, "said he didn't think it was serious."
Battle denied that he had been unresponsive and said he has met with many parents. "I'm not pushing anything under the rug," he said. "Any problems we have, we deal with."