Setting a Terrible Example

The evening of April 29 was disgraceful for the City of Alexandria. With its 7 to 1 vote to retain Superintendent Rebecca L. Perry after her drunken driving charge, the Alexandria School Board exhibited a lack of fortitude and conviction that I never dreamed imaginable. Who now could possibly argue against charges that the school system is blatantly hypocritical when it establishes a working policy signifying that adult example-setting is totally irrelevant to the proper education of our children? What's more, Perry not only undermined her own authority by choosing to drive while intoxicated, she endangered the very children that she is charged with protecting. In an era when we are so concerned about threats of terrorism, it seems that we have forgotten to take responsibility to ensure that our actions do not put neighbors and friends at risk, and Perry certainly cannot say that she was unaware of the harm she could have caused.

While it is understandable to feel sorry for Perry, it is entirely different to excuse her actions with a slap on the wrist. I am concerned by the argument that "it is only human to make a mistake" in this case. What Perry made was not a mistake -- it is not something for which she can say "Oops, I'm sorry" and leave us to look back upon it as a silly episode once some time has passed. With respect to the board's decision, there is no teachable moment here; parents are left without even the option of resorting to the notorious "young and dumb" excuse when talking about this incident with their children. But even if they could, what self-respecting parent tolerates in their children the faults they accept in themselves, let alone other adults? More importantly, how do they reconcile their teens' misconduct against the top administrator in the district?

Societal standards, the law and pillars of human decency and morality all require us to be conscious, thinking beings -- even when we drink. With its laissez-faire decision, the School Board has contributed to the erosion of this standard. The bottom line is, mistake or not, a professional educator made a choice that violated core principles that she has espoused as superintendent, and the resulting credibility gap is severe. While meetings of the School Board's advisory committee on substance abuse education are open to everyone, Perry's input will no longer be solicited in our proceedings, although her full support for our efforts is expected. Considering that her arrest came a mere 10 days after she attended our April meeting as a guest, it is clear to me that Perry has difficulty adhering to educational principles designed to keep us from having to cope with tragic results of such lapses in judgment.

After the incident, it occurred to me on a late-night jog that I now have to worry about the possibility of crossing paths with a drunk school official. As someone who lost a colleague to a drunk driver's "mistake" a mere 11 months ago, I know that we cannot afford to stand for Perry's game of Russian roulette.

Congratulations, Rebecca Perry, on keeping your job. Shame on you, School Board, for betraying your community's values, safety and trust.

Adam Pearlman

Chairman, ACPS

Substance Abuse Education and Violence Prevention Advisory Committee

Editor's note: The preceding was originally disseminated to committee members as a policy memorandum at their May meeting.