The Prince George's County Board of Education, prompted by the death of Forestville High School football star Rico Marshall, called last night for a county-wide meeting of government, church and school leaders to find ways to battle an increasing drug problem.
Board Chairman Barbara F. Martin said she will write to County Executive Parris Glendening, police officials and area ministers asking them to meet and discuss ways of combatting the problem.
"If you've got one drug-related incident in our school system, that's too many," said board member Angelo I. Castelli.
Marshall, 18, died Feb. 13 of a cocaine overdose after swallowing six chunks of crack, a powerful cocaine derivative, in an apparent effort to conceal them from police officers on a Capitol Heights street corner. He was buried a week after signing his intent to play football at the University of South Carolina next fall.
When board members learned after Marshall's death that he had been arrested on a cocaine possession charge in December, several expressed outrage that state law forbids police to give school officials information about such arrests.
"If we could get some of this information in the school system, maybe we could try gentle persuasion to help kids . . . . I think it would aid some of our kids with a problem that is endemic across the county," Castelli said.
Glendening, reached at home last night, said his staff will cooperate in every way.
"Anything we can do, we'll do," he said. "We're all obviously fighting the same battle."
Superintendent John A. Murphy characterized the drug problem as being so widespread it cannot be fought by the school system alone. "We hear some horrendous tales from youngsters who come to school," he said: "Parents who are beginning to lock their children in their homes and not letting them back on the streets.
"What we want to do is sit down and start talking about it, what can the schools do to help the police, what can the police do to help the schools. We need a uniform effort."
The increasing problem of drug possession and sales has been a topic of discussion during most of the board's meetings this year.
The board is considering amending its Code of Student Conduct to mandate suspension of students for up to five days on a first drug possession offense and require the student and a parent or guardian to have counseling. The policy now requires a full five days' suspension and has no counseling requirement.
The board backed away from its intent to ask judicial and law enforcement authorities to share confidential information about students' drug records, until county agencies and community leaders have a chance to discuss the problem.