Expulsion looms for students

April 08, 1994|By Carol L. Bowers and Andrea F. Siegel | Carol L. Bowers and Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writers

School system officials have recommended the expulsion of four black students from Severna Park High School who were involved in two race-related brawls there last month, The Sun has learned.

But white students involved in the fights have not been disciplined, according to a lawyer for two black students.

Alan Legum, representing two of the black students who will be appealing their punishment, questioned the fairness of the disciplinary action.

"Insensitive is too mild a word," the Annapolis lawyer said.

Kenneth Lawson, associate superintendent for instruction and school services, refused to discuss what punishments had been meted out to the students involved in the brawls, or to comment on whether black students were the only ones punished.

"We don't talk about punishments given to any individual student," he said. "Some of the students were readmitted to school, some were suspended and some were expelled. That's all I can tell you."

Of Severna Park's 1,662 students, 91 percent are white and 6 percent are black.

Although it's customary for a principal to immediately suspend students involved in a fight pending an investigation, the white students involved in the fights remained in school, Mr. Legum said. Only black students were suspended, he said.

Mr. Legum said the status of the white students, one of whom allegedly used a racial slur, has not changed.

"It's not a question of what ultimately happened. It's where it starts. They suspended the black student," Mr. Legum said. "Why wasn't the white student brought before the same procedure?"

He also questioned how the school system arrived at its recommendation to expel his clients.

The school system has no policy on dealing with racial slurs, although a student could be suspended under a broader policy that spells out acceptable behavior, said Dr. Oliver Wittig, Severna Park's principal.

Annapolis Alderman Carl O. Snowden, Ward 5, was contacted by the parents of one of the boys and asked to investigate the matter.

"I'm looking at the question of whether there was unfair treatment," said Mr. Snowden, a civil rights activist. "A number of the parents have contacted me. Obviously, I do not know if there was unfair treatment, but it appears that way to many people."

In December, the school system signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights aimed at ensuring that race is not a factor in student discipline cases. School officials have until Aug. 31 to appoint a committee to review student transfers, extended suspensions and expulsions.

Mr. Legum said that because his clients apparently will not have the benefit of the review committee, he is considering filing a complaint with the federal Civil Rights Office.

The incidents that led to the fights, and seven arrests, began March 21. That Monday, a white student repeated a racial slur made by another white student about a black classmate.

Another black student -- one who was not charged in this incident -- confronted the white student about passing on the remark.A second black student joined in the verbal exchange, which escalated into a fight.

A second brawl, the next day, began with taunting. A black student apparently threw the first punch.

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