Police, counselors again visit Severna Park High

March 25, 1994|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

Counselors and police will be at Severna Park High School again today after two racially motivated fights and the discovery of a handgun at the school this week -- though some students said the presence of so many outsiders is just about as disturbing as the incidents.

Yesterday, police cruisers were parked outside the school while a few uniformed officers and about eight counselors were inside.

"You walk around, you keep looking around. Every time you turn around, you think somebody is staring at you. It is a little tense," complained senior Walt Morgan.

Others said that seeing police in the corridors made them nervous because it gave the school an aura they associate with violence-plagued inner-city schools, not their upscale suburban neighborhood.

Principal Oliver Wittig said the extra help was needed to deter further problems, to talk with distraught students and to help administrators investigate the incidents.

Meanwhile, newly appointed Superintendent Carol S. Parham visited the school, talking with students and faculty indoors and in the student parking lot.

"My sense of it and certainly from being here this afternoon is that things are settling down," she said later. "The Severna Park community has been very supportive of what we do in the schools."

Seven black youths have been charged by police and suspended by school officials as a result of brawls Monday and Tuesday -- though none of the white students involved, one of whom is believed to have uttered a racial slur that touched off one of the fights, has been disciplined.

Some black students have complained that is discrimination, echoing complaints from past years that black students and white students are disciplined differently.

Of Severna Park's 1,662 students, 91 percent are white and 6 percent are black. The school system agreed in December to a 16-point settlement with federal civil rights officials to keep race from being a factor in student discipline. Now, school officials are "really sensitive to the issue of the racial dimension of this thing," said Kenneth Lawson, assistant superintendent.

Though the school system has no explicit policy on dealing with racial slurs, those remarks would fall under broader behavior policies, making it possible for the student to be suspended, Dr. Wittig said.

In the handgun incident, Melissa Dawn Bury, 16, of Elvaton Road was charged as an adult with possession of a deadly weapon on school grounds. She has been suspended pending the outcome of the criminal case and a school probe. The gun was not loaded.

Genevieve Bury, the student's mother, said her daughter did not bring the gun to school because of the brawls Monday and

Tuesday. "She took it to school to show a boy," Mrs. Bury said. "That doesn't make it right, but it had nothing to do with the other racial things going on."

Mrs. Bury said she and her husband did not know that Melissa had taken the gun out of the house. The gun belonged to Melissa's father, she said. It was a World War II weapon her husband received as a gift several years ago.

Huntley Cross, special assistant to the superintendent, said a student who has brought a weapon to school most often is expelled.

"The board has a zero tolerance for weapons in the school system," added school board President Thomas Twombly. "In reference to fighting, there is a policy about fighting and there are policies and procedures that are being followed."

Dr. Wittig said he will meet today with the Ebony Culture Club, a black student group, and with other groups of students in coming days.

He said he is writing a letter to parents describing the incidents and their aftermath and is offering to hold a meeting for parents. He hasn't had enough administrators available to respond to telephone calls from parents this week, he said.

While some Severna Park High School students and parents say the community has been racially harmonious, others said there has been an occasional racial problem.

"The racial stuff, you hear it everywhere," said Walt Morgan, the senior.

"You just can't do anything about it."

"There's always been tension. It's never been up to this," said senior Robin Sosnow.

"I think everything will be OK in the end," added Beth DiBlasi, a sophomore.

Severna Park has been the site of several racial incidents in recent years.

Nearly a year ago, a Severna Park man was placed on probation by an Anne Arundel Circuit Court judge for a beating the man said was sparked by a racial slur.

On Halloween weekend in 1992, vandals spray-painted racial slurs and Nazi symbols on walls at Severna Park Middle School.

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