About 300 middle school students stood outside Severna Park High, all dressed up with no place to go.
No extra lights were turned on for them Friday night as some waited in darkness for nearly four hours, wondering what the music might have sounded like if they had been allowed inside for a dance scheduled in the school gymnasium.
The teen dance for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders was organized by a group of Severna Park parents with the goal of keeping students off the streets on weekends. Instead, it ended up leaving students from 18 public and private county schools outside when Severna Park High principal Oliver Wittig said his school was off-limits.
"None of the dates requested were approved," Wittig said. "If it was advertised, it was done prematurely. I was not aware until Friday night at approximately 6 p.m.
"There was nothing I could do. It takes approximately three hours to ready a school for a dance. I was neither here to allow nor disallow it. When I got to the school at 7:45, there were a half-dozen kids, and as far as I knew, they had already made arrangements to get home."
Wittig said he has sent a letter to organizers of the activity explaining the miscommunication.
Joe Campbell, a county police officer and one of the parents who arranged the event sponsored by the Severna Park Teen Venture Club, is still seething about the way the mix-up was handled.
"It dealt a serious blow to our credibility," Campbell said, citing an increase in club members, from only 40 last year to 388 students this year.
"I was already at the school for a soccer game when I was told by the DJ that he couldn't get the equipment in because the building was locked. I called Mr. Wittig at home and he said he would call back, and in the meantime sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders were piling up.
"I called him back and he told me he reread the contract and said the school could not be used unless it is a school-sponsored activity."
Campbell is especially angered by the turn of events since his goal was to provide alternatives for students who frequently ask him for options when they see him in uniform ordering them to quiet down as they stand on street corners.
"I got tired of running kids off the streets and hearing the calls about disorderly juveniles," Campbell said.
"Schools just don't offer anything for kids, other than sports activities. The school system pays lip service to drug and alcohol prevention. They're not serious. We have drug education in school, yet we turn around and say we can't use the school which would provide them with a place to go on Friday nights."
Campbell and Jim Magliano, who both have children at Severna Park Middle School, took their complaints to school board members Monday night.
But even that left them somewhat frustrated. After missing his opportunity to speak during time allotted for public participation, Campbell and his small group were taken to a separate room while the board meeting continued.
Deputy Superintendent C. Berry Carter and William Peacock, chairman of the Outside Use Committee for school events, listened to the complaints and reviewed the policy booklet.
"I told (Wittig) that there are up to 300 kids here and it's getting dark," Magnolia said during the meeting. "He shows up a half-hour later and walks right by us and watched the situation deteriorate. The janitor was letting students in three at a time to use the telephone (to call their parents), but he (Wittig) put an end to that."
Carter read guidelines from the "Community Use of Facilities" handbook for determining which groups are allowed to use public schools. But Magnolia said the outlined restrictions preventing private groups from using school facilities would not apply, since the Teen Venture Club receives a $2,400 grant from the county Department of Parks and Recreation.
The grant money is to be used for bimonthly activities, and the $3 admission would have paid the $250 fee for disc jockey group, Wite Noyze.
Magliano added that on Sept. 5, the Severna Park High business manager approved three dates for activities, including Friday night's dance.
Copyright The Baltimore Sun 1990