Montgomery County police, continuing their intensive campaign against high school drug users, arrested 11 students at Bethesda's Walt Whitman High School yesterday as dozens of parents called county officials to support the police crackdown and urge that it be continued.
The police made the arrests after surveillance by teams of plainclothes officers. A total of 76 students have now been arrested for possession and use of marijuana at 12 different high schools.
But student reaction to the arrests at Whitman was swifter and more dramatic than at other schools. Police reported that students shouted at arresting officers and surrounded one patrolman in a wooded area, causing him to radio a distress signal.
After police left, more than 400 students camped in the middle of Whittier Boulevard outside the school, blocking traffic. The students wired up a stereo system, bought beer from local stores, producd more marijuana and continue their protest until 3 p.m.
The arrests took place shortly afternoon when plainclothes officers. backed by patrolmen, converged on a long embankment sloping from the east wing of Whitman and arrested three girls and eight boys who were among about 50 students scattered around the grassy hill, police said.
Police did not attempt to break up the subsequent demonstration, which blocked school buses making their afternoon runs. The crowd dispersed when the students grew tired.
Reaction to the continuing arrests varied widely among Whitman students, teachers and parents. Many parents called Montgomery County Executive James P. Gleason's office to complain about a county plan to phase out the surveillance and arrests and rely instead primarily on students' "peer pressure."
At a meeting with Police Chief Robert K. diGracia and School Superintendent Charles M. Bernardo Tuesday, Gleason said that it was not "a healthy situation for police to do permanent surveillance of the school environment."
"I think this policy of negative reinforcement is working and don't like the idea of slowing it down," said Thomas E. Dooley of Gaithersburg, one of the callers. "We've got to stop these kids from bringing drugs and alcohol into a learning situation."
Gleason aide Charles Maier, who had received 21 calls in support of the police by 1 p.m., said yesterday that Gleason had not told police either to continue or discontinue the drug raids, but had called the meeting "to make sure that the school board had no problems in the way the raids were being handled."
Ann Fein, a teacher at Whitman, said that many students at the school also supported the arrests. "A lot of the students and teachers feel like the students asked for what they got, and deserved it," she said. "They knew about what was happenig at the other schools, so they were not innocent babes in the woods. They were up there trying to make some kind of a point."
"This makes the school look really bad." said Tim Silard, president of the Whitman student government, "The whole school is not throwing trash around and harassing motorists."
Many students were unhappy about the arrests, however.
"People have been smoking pot in school for 10 years," said Cecile Ledet, a junior at Whitman who said she was part of a committee that will organize protests against the police campaign. "The arrests are not going to stop it. People are going to do it no matter what happens.
"Each child thinks he's too smart to be caught," said Nancy Weicking, a school board candidate whose son attends Whitman. "And they will keep on doing these things until the police catch up with them. It's too bad."
Weicking and several Whitman teachers, though supporting the arrests, questioned police surveillance tactics. According to some students, officers posed as window washers and, dressed as students, rode motorcycles and performed stunts in the school parking lot.