Two interracial fights within the past week at Wilde Lake High School are prompting a call by Howard County's African American Coalition for more peer mediation and conflict-training courses at the west Columbia school.
Police, parents and community leaders have met over the past two days to discuss the incidents and talk with students, according to Wilde Lake officials. The Rev. Robert Turner, president of the coalition, is asking school administrators to offer more programs for students to learn to deal with their cultural differences.
"We need to give young people the tools to deal with situations of conflict rather than fighting," Turner said. "For lots of young people, fighting is all they know. It's their first resort, and it should be their last."
About 25 to 30 Wilde Lake students were involved in a fight outside the school Tuesday afternoon near the indoor pool next to the Wilde Lake Village Center, Howard County police said. Police could not confirm the racial makeup of those fighting, but passers-by interviewed by The Sun say the fight was between a group of white males and a group of black males.
Police and fire officials have no records of anyone being taken to the hospital, though Turner said at least one student was injured in the fight.
The fight may have stemmed from an incident Oct. 11 after a pep rally at the school involving three black males and two white males, some students said yesterday. Principal Bonnie Daniel said the Oct. 11 incident involved pushing and shoving, and police say no injuries were reported. Howard County police and school administrators would not say yesterday whether the incident Tuesday was racially motivated, but it seems the fight was "divided along racial lines," said Sgt. Steven Keller, a police spokesman. During the incident, racial epithets were yelled by some of the combatants, student witnesses said.
Said Turner: "Anytime you have two different culture groups resorting to violence, that's a concern that raises eyebrows."
He said that achievement differences along racial lines within the school may be contributing to the tensions. In the Howard schools and other school systems, black students as a group generally perform worse on achievement tests than white students -- a gap that the school system is trying to address.
"We see this as a spark that could lead to a destructive fire," Turner said. "Even if this wasn't racially motivated in the beginning, there is a danger if we push this situation under the rug and ignore the fact there were black and white students involved."
Administrators and students say the school does not have racial tensions. The last time such tensions were evident, Daniel said, was during the 1970s when students from across the county began attending the first high school in Columbia.
"We will make sure we get to the bottom of this so it doesn't happen again," Daniel said. "We don't have a history of racial tensions, and we don't want one."
Reports of such incidents at the school have been few.
In 1994, a female Muslim student was harassed on two occasions with threatening letters in her locker. In another incident last year, another female Muslim student was riding a school bus and had her scarf yanked from her head by a boy. Nevertheless, students, parents and administrators said yesterday that they fear the incidents may paint the "whole school in a bad light," said Susan Shipp, secretary of the school's Parent Teacher Association.
"Things seemed to be on upward slope for the school. Its sports teams are starting to win, scores on tests are going up and they're in a new building, so having a fight like this occur is quite unfortunate and disappointing," said Shipp, who has two children at the school. "It's a shame that what probably started out as an innocent misunderstanding escalated out of proportion.
"But when you get 1,350 kids together, the potential for that kind of thing is there," she said. "It's a real diverse group of kids."
At Wilde Lake, 55.8 percent of the students are white, 32.6 percent are African-American and 11.6 percent are of other racial backgrounds.
The halls of the high school have been buzzing since the two fights, according to counselors, teachers and students.
Over the past two days, three police officers have been stationed outside the school and the nearby village center. The principal told students during her weekly address just before school let out Wednesday that she was disappointed that Wilde Lake students were involved in such an incident.
The president of Wilde Lake's student government also expressed disappointment. "It's really upsetting that these things have happened at the village center," said Thomas Sutton, 17, a senior. "But I haven't seen too much in school, any tension or anything."
However, some students say that there must be more tolerance for different cultures and religions.
And Brian Jackson, 16, a senior, and some other students said yesterday they don't believe the fights were racially motivated.
"It was just people acting stupid," he said. "They think that makes them hard. They don't need to be fighting about stupid stuff."
Senior Jack Sasser, 17, added: "There's no more racial tension here than anywhere else in this county.
"The fights are no reflection of the school," he said.
Pub Date: 10/18/96