It was not quite business as usual at Patuxent High School on Tuesday, but officials said it was close enough, considering the disaster some thought possible.
Many students at the Calvert County school did not show up for classes that day after a student allegedly scrawled a warning in a school bathroom last week, predicting violence against black students Oct. 26, school officials said.
The day instead passed peaceably at the Lusby school, said Jack Smith, deputy superintendent of Calvert County public schools, but not before officials got a lesson in the vexing power of rumor among the student body and the community.
A letter sent home Monday by school Principal Gordon Libby described to parents "a rumor that is circulating at school because of some graffiti written on our boy's bathroom."
The letter said that "unfortunately, rumors are still being circulated by some students that it will not be safe to come to school tomorrow."
Calvert County public schools spokeswoman Karen Maxey said a warning of violence on the wall had escalated through rumor to someone being "shot," even though that was never specifically indicated in the warning. She declined to say exactly what the graffiti said.
School workers quickly painted over the graffiti after the incident, but the rumors refused to go away, Maxey said.
"I think that there are people who are legitimately afraid," Smith said. "I also think that sometimes students take advantage of these situations to not be in school."
The school, which has about 1,500 students, usually has about 150 absent a day, Maxey said. On Tuesday, absenteeism was up about 7 percent, enough to make it feel like "the flu was going around" but not a "huge amount," Maxey said.
Despite his effort to quell the rumors, Libby also promised in his letter to increase security at the school. At one point, about nine officers from the Calvert County Sheriff's Office and the Maryland State Police were on the campus Tuesday, Smith said.
The Calvert County Sheriff's Office said its investigation led to a male student at the school.
The youth, who is not being identified because he is a juvenile, was arrested Monday, charged with threatening students and turned over to juvenile services, according to the sheriff's office. Smith said the student had been removed from the school last week, though he declined to say why.
"Contrary to rumor and conversation in the community, it is a relatively normal school day at Patuxent High School today," read the school district's news release Tuesday. "It is always a good idea to remember that rumors can take on a life of their own, and unless addressed, can stimulate further problems."
Baseball Stadium Talks
The Charles County Chamber of Commerce has scheduled a meeting Nov. 8 to discuss the proposed minor league baseball stadium in Hughesville.
Scheduled speakers for the meeting, set to begin at 6 p.m. at Middleton Hall in Waldorf, include Peter Kirk, chairman of Maryland Baseball LLC. The Lancaster, Pa.-based company is involved with other minor league baseball operations in the region and would develop the proposed stadium.
Baltimore Orioles Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson has also been invited to speak.
The meeting -- which includes dinner -- costs $30 for members and $40 for non-members.
To register or for more information, contact the chamber office at 301-932-6500 or 301-870-3089 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
New Program at Chapman
Chapman State Park in Charles County began an education program this week for students in Maryland schools.
Children from John Hanson Montessori School in Oxon Hill are participating in park outings in a pilot project led by the Chapman Forest Foundation, with the help of grants from the Sierra Club and the Chesapeake Bay Trust, and with support from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, according to an announcement by the foundation.
The goal of the field trips is to provide students with a meaningful environmental experience related to the Chesapeake Bay, but closer to home along the 21/4-mile preserved shoreline at the park.
This week, the children have helped test the Potomac River's water clarity.
The St. Mary's County public library system, with the Unified Committee for Afro-American Contributions (UCAC), is offering a series of fall and winter workshops titled: "Telling Your Story: Keeping History Alive."
The workshop "Researching Your Roots" is scheduled at 1 p.m. on Nov. 6 at the Lexington Park Memorial Library and will feature genealogist Agnes Kane Callum.
"Finding our roots can play an important part in understanding who we are in the present," said UCAC President Merideth Taylor in an announcement of the series. "Knowledge of our ancestors' occupations, geographic locations and cultures enriches our sense of self and how we fit into the bigger picture."
Callum is a researcher, writer and lecturer on the U.S. Colored Troops and black genealogy. She will guide attendees through methods of documenting family history, using slides and handouts to illustrate how to search through the federal census and other sources, such as military, cemetery and church records; marriage and death certificates; federal and state archives; genealogical and historical societies; and Bibles.
Workshops on oral history interviewing and the presentation of stories are planned for Feb. 26 and March 26.
New Health Spokeswoman
The St. Mary's County Health Department has named Leslie Payne as its new public information officer. Payne replaces Mary Novotny, who retired from the post last summer.
Mary Wood, St. Mary's Health Department administrator, said Payne "brings a broad range of experience in community relations from both the health and education sectors and fits well into our plans to grow our marketing effort in the county."
Payne moved to Southern Maryland recently from Oak Harbor, Wash. "I have been fortunate to live in communities that value their health and education services and who see these areas as key features in maintaining a high quality of life for their citizens," Payne said.
During her tenure at the Health Department, Novotny served as public information officer, health educator, volunteer coordinator and Tel-Med coordinator. Her retirement June 30 marked 20 years of service with the Health Department in St. Mary's County.