Jeanne Clapp, of Bethesda, recalls it as one of the oddest sights she has seen in quite some time. As she drove along Massachusetts Avenue, near her home, she passed Westland Intermediate School, just west of Little Falls Parkway. Outside, an army of kids -- obviously Westland students -- was cutting down several dozen yellow ribbons that were tied to the trees.

Yes, cutting down, not putting up, even though the Persian Gulf War had been underway for only a few days at the time.

Jeanne stopped her car to ask a woman who appeared to be a teacher what was going on. The woman said the school administration had ordered the ribbons taken down because of fears that they would mark the school for a terrorist attack.

Jeanne thought that was a little silly, since there's a large permanent brown wooden sign at the foot of the school property that says WESTLAND INTERMEDIATE SCHOOL, in white letters about eight inches high. Any terrorist who can read would already be able to find and victimize Westland, yellow ribbons or no.

However, after I looked further into the Westland ribbon decision, it proved to be less simple and less overcautious than the way Jeanne heard it.

Michael Jenkins, Westland's assistant principal, said the administration initially had no objection to yellow ribbons on the hilly school grounds -- and several dozen were tied to trees along the entranceway.

However, in late January, a Westland teacher heard a State Department spokesman on the radio. He said that American institutions displaying yellow ribbons could be placing themselves in jeopardy. So, "as a discretionary thing, we thought it best to take most down. We're near the D.C. line and some embassies. It's a cautionary thing," Michael said.

In addition, between 10 and 15 Westland students have a parent serving in the Gulf. Those children are "anxious," and highly visible displays of yellow ribbons might have made them more so, Michael said.

Early this month, a compromise was reached, and it's an eminently sensible one. Two small yellow ribbons now adorn the WESTLAND INTERMEDIATE SCHOOL sign, one along the right edge, one along the left. They're the only ribbons a passerby or driver-by can see. Meanwhile, no terrorist incidents or threats have been reported at Westland, and I'd bet an awful lot of money none will be.

That isn't meant as a second-guess of the school administration. Initially, administrators wanted students to feel involved in yellow ribbon-hanging, and the lessons that that teaches. Nothing wrong with that. And clearly, removing most of the ribbons was prudent, which is always the first order of business at a public school.

But the modest yellow-ribbon display that now hangs from the WESTLAND sign was obviously the way to go from the very beginning. I recognize that the school administration was only trying to give a large number of students a "hands-on" sense of a war that was all over the TV screen. But two ribbons say what needs saying just as loudly as 200.

Thanks to Tony Glaros, of Laurel, who spotted and passed along this bumper sticker:


Shopping centers have supposedly thought of everything. But James B. Burroughs, of Annandale, has just thought of the one thing every shopping center forgot.

"When entering a mall for the first time, I'm assuming most people, like myself, go to the mall's directory," James writes.

"Just about every directory I have seen has a map of the mall, a list of the stores featured in the mall and store numbers.

"But as you walk through the mall, you will notice that the stores do not have those same store numbers on their entrances. Having numbers prominently displayed would greatly facilitate the identification of the store one is seeking."

Ray Compton, of Manassas, is still trying to get over this one.

Last spring, he happened to catch a report on CBS Radio about the dreadful rains and flooding in Arkansas, near Pine Bluff.

The reporter's name?

Sunny Meriwether.

And here's a thought that our circulation department won't like, even if I do. It's from Alfred Barnard, of Reston.

"If you sell everyone on the idea of not leaving their newspaper on the seat when they exit Metro," Alfred wonders, "how am I going to get a chance to read your column?"