Jarmise Bell's first name was misspelled in an article Thursday about his parents' protest of a six-hour, in-school suspension he served in an open closet at Greenbelt Middle School. (Published 01/22/2000)
The parents of a 12-year-old Greenbelt Middle School student who sat in an open closet for six hours last week as punishment for fighting are asking school officials to investigate.
"This child was put in this closet by two [employees], and none of the other teachers who knew about it came to his aid," said Ted J. Williams, attorney for Jerry and Yvonne Bell.
Williams said he faxed a letter yesterday to Prince George's County School Superintendent Iris T. Metts, asking for an investigation of the punishment of the Bells' son, Jarmese, a seventh-grade student. The closet is about six feet by six feet and lit by a single bulb. The door was left open.
"He was crying," Williams said. "He was complaining that it was cold, and they still made him stay in there all day. One administrator told him he wouldn't feel the cold if he did his homework."
Richmond Myrick, principal at Greenbelt Middle School, was at a meeting yesterday and could not be reached.
Schools spokeswoman Jocelyn Harris said officials have concluded that nothing was amiss and that overcrowded schools have led to the use of many non-classroom spaces.
"We are aware of the parents' concerns," she said, "but the child was under adult supervision at all times. At this time, we have no indication that school staff took inappropriate action. It is our understanding that [Jarmese] was in an open area at all times."
Harris said the room is "large enough to accommodate a desk and for use as a time-out area." Because of a space shortage in the schools, principals "use their judgment about space availability and have converted some spaces previously used for other purposes into areas for conference rooms, time-out areas and places where in-school suspensions are served," she said.
"At this time, there is nothing to indicate the need for more investigation," Harris said. Further investigation is possible "if we deem it necessary."
Jarmese served an in-school suspension at the request of his mother. When Yvonne Bell learned that Jarmese had been suspended for fighting with another student, she asked that her son be allowed to stay in an empty classroom, because she had to work and there was no one to stay at home with him. School officials agreed, she said.
When Jarmese arrived at school Jan. 13, he was shown to the closet, off an office in the front hall.
"I felt like I was in jail," Jarmese said yesterday.
When he got home, Jarmese told his mother he had spent the day in the closet. The next day, she complained to a school administrator, whom she would not identify. He lifted the balance of Jarmese's five-day suspension and allowed the boy to return to school.
The Bells said they called Metts's office the same day and were told that an investigation would be conducted, but they have not been contacted.
"The treatment of Jarmese Bell by the administration of Greenbelt Middle School was appalling and inexcusable," the letter to Metts said. "On behalf of the Bells . . . we request a complete investigation of this matter."
Jerry Bell said the punishment was excessive.
"They violated his rights as a student," he said. "They turned it into a lockdown, instead of a suspension. These are children. You are supposed to handle them with care. You shouldn't treat children like that."
CAPTION: Attorney Ted J. Williams, Yvonne Bell and her son, Jarmese, 12, seek investigation.