As another weekend approached, with another possibility for teen drinking parties in the Washington suburbs, one Maryland principal tried to get out in front of the problem.
Alan Goodwin, in his 12th year as principal at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, says he had heard about two teen parties last weekend that involved alcohol and took place while parents allegedly were home.
Not wanting another, Goodwin used Whitman’s e-mail group to reach the parents of the 1,980 students who attend his high-performing school in Montgomery County. Imbued with a sense of urgency, his message said:
“Parents, as we get close to another weekend, please do not host an underage drinking party as apparently some of you did last weekend. This must stop. The law says you can be fined a minimum of $2,500/underage drinker if the drinker(s) is at your residence and you are present.
“While the fine is steep, the stronger risk is that a teenager from your party will be injured or die either from excessive drinking or while in a car with a driver under the influence. Parents, find other ways to bond with your child. Please.”
The principal’s plea came as Montgomery has lost several teenagers to alcohol-related crashes in a little more than a year.
In June, two 18-year-olds who had just graduated from Wootton High in Rockville were killed in a car crash that police say came after a drinking party at a house where a teenager’s father allegedly was home. On Labor Day weekend in 2014, a 15-year-old from Sherwood High was killed in a crash involving alcohol.
Goodwin said that some drinking parties take place without parents’ knowledge, but he finds it disheartening to discover that parents have permitted them.
“There’s only so much I can continue to say, and parents are still doing this,” Goodwin said. It’s not that the problem is on the rise, he said, but that it continues. “I was disappointed,” he said of his reaction to last weekend’s parties.
If he had the names of the parents involved, he said, he would have called them to express his dismay and discuss “the precarious circumstances” they created for themselves and the students.
Goodwin has written other messages to the community about staying safe and making good decisions, but said this one appears to have “struck a chord.” Twenty parents e-mailed him between late Thursday and Friday afternoon.
Jodi McGill, a parent who has been involved in the school for nearly a decade, said Goodwin sends messages a few times a year — around proms, dances, homecoming — reminding parents to be vigilant, but this message was different. The subject line: “Please Stop!”
“The impression I had when I read the e-mail is that maybe there was an elevated level of frustration and it seemed to be that he felt he needed send a stronger message,” she said.
Deb Lang, a Whitman parent who read Goodwin’s e-mail, said she liked that he was being proactive, not reacting to a recent tragedy.
“I like not only the substance of the message, but the tone,” she said. “I liked the words he chose. I appreciate that our principal goes well beyond grades and scores. He cares about the character of his community.”
Elise Browne Hughes, another parent, also said she agreed with Goodwin’s point, although she added that she was struck by his suggestion that some parents might think of parties as a bonding experience. “Maybe some parents think it’s okay to host a drinking party,” she said. “I just don’t get it.”
Goodwin said principals and school leaders do what they can to address the problem, bringing in speakers, holding assemblies and supporting special programs that help students understand the consequences of substance abuse and drunken driving.
“It’s horrible to lose a student; there’s nothing worse, and whatever we can do to prevent that is part of our charge,” he said.
After writing to parents, he decided to get the word out to students, too. He knew many would attend a football game Friday night: Whitman vs. Bethesda-Chevy Chase.
He messaged students through a cellphone app:
“Students, don’t pre-game. All police will have breathalyzers. Just come and cheer on the team and have fun with friends. Be safe.”