Nearly 100 Suitland High School parents and students met with Prince George's County school officials last night in a sometimes angry session prompted by a series of recent disturbances at the school.
The mood at the meeting, called by Board of Education member Sarah Johnson, swung between bitterness and a spirit of optimism that parents could work together to end what many describe as racial friction at the predominantly black school.
"The tensions are too high here tonight for us to reasonably solve what the problem is," said Bobby Griffin, whose daughter is a senior at Suitland. "I would like to see us as a community pull together and try to make some good come out of it."
The controversy, which led a group of white parents to pull their children out of school for several days, erupted after a fight March 7 between two white youths. Several smaller fights have broken out since; students have complained that they are threatened in the corridors, and parents have demanded that administrators take action to calm the atmosphere.
Deputy Superintendent Edward Felegy told the meeting that officials had taken several steps, including increasing security, creating a "rumor control center" and sending in a team of counselors to work with students involved in the incidents.
"I am convinced, if all of you had been there over the years working with us," said Principal Walter Battle, "we could have turned that school around. I believe Suitland is a good school."
Some students expressed disappointment that their school had been portrayed negatively, assuring the crowd that black and white youngsters are friendly. Others said they were afraid at school.
"I have been threatened twice in the last two weeks," said 17-year-old Susan Varn. "I'm not going back to school until this gets cleared up. It's not a hallucination."
Parents expressed anger at Battle, other administrators and each other for the situation at the school.
"The county is continuing to fail these students," said Joanne Dickinson, who said her 17-year-old son had dropped out of Suitland.
PTA President Norvell Brown Jr. complained that parents had not been active at the school and said: "I'm afraid you parents have failed your children."