The leader of a high-performing Maryland high school that lost two recent graduates in an alcohol-related crash voiced sadness and frustration this week that a spring-break trip organized by parents appeared to condone teen drinking.
“Our community has suffered tremendous losses, and I am disappointed that anyone would imply that drinking by our students who are not yet of legal drinking age is acceptable — even if it may be allowed in a different country,” Kimberly Boldon, acting principal of Rockville’s Thomas S. Wootton High School, wrote in a letter dated Tuesday.
Boldon said in an interview Wednesday that she wrote the letter after seeing a detailed document about a spring-break trip to Riviera Maya, Mexico, along the Caribbean coastline. The document, obtained by The Washington Post and first reported by WUSA9, mentions Mexico’s legal drinking age of 18 and asks that those who “choose to drink alcohol agree to do so responsibly and in accordance with applicable law.”
While it asks for participants’ agreement not to bring or attempt to buy illegal drugs, it advises that steps be taken in advance to “discuss the importance of drinking and acting responsibly (including watching out for friends).”
In Boldon’s letter, she emphasized the spring-break trip is not school-sponsored and wrote of a collective responsibility to keep students safe and to set boundaries.
“Allowing underage drinking here or in another country is irresponsible, dangerous and places our students in harm’s way,” she said.
Her message comes as another sign of clashing views about teen drinking — with some parents urging a strong stance against it and others allowing alcohol with certain conditions. Boldon urged clarity and consistency.
“There is a firm line in the sand on this issue,” she said. “This has to stop.”
The Mexico trip document lists the organizers as Gayle Strauss and Tracie Saltzman.
Tracie Saltzman is the wife of Kenneth Saltzman, the North Potomac father who was issued two criminal citations for allowing underage drinking at his home the night of a crash in June that claimed the lives of two members of Wootton’s Class of 2015: Calvin Li and Alex Murk. The driver, Samuel Ellis, also a 2015 Wootton graduate, is scheduled for trial in April.
Tracie Saltzman said in an email to The Post that the trip mostly involves families, not students on their own.
“The few attending without their parents are going with families that are responsible for them,” she wrote. “We do not condone drinking under the age of 21 and included Mexico’s 18-year-old drinking age in order to make families aware of the different law.”
She said that she and her daughter are the only members of her family going on the trip. Kenneth Saltzman, who pleaded guilty last year to the two citations for the house party, was ordered to pay $5,000, the maximum fine.
Strauss did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment.
In the Wootton letter, Boldon says she has become “quite fond of the students and parents in the class of 2016,” noting that as an administrator she was assigned to the group when they arrived as freshmen and that she has watched them mature and grow.
If students do go on the trip, she said, “it is my hope that parents accompanying them will ensure that our students are held to the same high standards of conduct we expect of them here.”
Boldon’s letter came three months after the longtime principal at Walt Whitman High School, Alan Goodwin, sent a letter to parents asking them to refrain from hosting underage drinking parties. His subject line: “Please Stop!”
Boldon said the issue is widely felt. “We are all grappling with and struggling with underage drinking, and parents’ participation in that,” she said.