8 barred from graduation

alcohol found on prom bus

Angry parents say that only half of those involved received punishment

May 26, 1999|By Dail Willis and Dan Thanh Dang | Dail Willis and Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

Eight graduating seniors at Owings Mills High School, including the king of the prom, were barred from last night's graduation ceremonies after being expelled earlier in the day for prom-night drinking.

The students, whose last day of school was Friday, will receive diplomas but could not participate in last night's commencement. Angry parents -- some of whom had relatives coming from as far away as the Philippines to see the ceremony -- called the decision unfair because only half of the students involved were punished.

"Clearly, all the kids had involvement. Why do some get to graduate and some don't?" said Sherry Myers, whose 17-year-old son, Justin, was one of the eight students expelled. "I don't understand that. It has become a very vindictive thing."

"It's arbitrary -- it's who they want to believe," said Bob Hallock. His son Bobby, 17, was expelled, too.

But school officials defended the eight expulsions -- and the eight students who were spared -- as the result of impartial investigation.

"We weighed each individual case," said Charles Herndon, spokesman for Baltimore County schools. "In looking at the evidence presented, it was determined some of these cases did not rise to the level of what had been alleged." He declined to comment on specific cases, however, citing privacy laws.

The expulsions came after a day of hearings yesterday that ended a few hours before the high school's commencement ceremonies began at Western Maryland College. At issue was an incident at the school's prom Saturday night at the Marriott Hotel in Baltimore.

Herndon, parents and students said that a chartered bus brought 22 students -- including 14 Owings Mills seniors, a junior and a sophomore plus six students from other schools -- to the dance.

Somewhere between the two homes where the students were picked up and the Marriott, alcohol was brought on board.

Once at the prom, hotel officials noticed that students were visiting the bus regularly and called police. City police officers searched the bus and found several bottles of vodka, tequila, champagne and liqueurs, Herndon and the parents said.

The students who rode the bus, including prom king Justin Myers and his date, were ordered to leave at once, Herndon said. The students were not charged, but their parents were called to pick them up.

"This is a very serious infraction," Herndon said.

The school system's behavior manual spells out that possession or use of drugs or alcohol at school events -- including those held off school grounds, such as proms and games -- is punishable by suspension with a recommendation for expulsion.

The alcohol on the bus broke the rules because the vehicle was used to take students to a school-sponsored activity, Herndon said.

Parents contacted by The Sun yesterday said they agreed that their children had broken the rules, but they questioned how fairly the rules had been applied.

"My son is not saying he is innocent," said Myers. "But he said everyone on the bus was drinking. Why weren't the rules applied to everybody?"

Herndon said that the purpose of the hearings was to evaluate the evidence against each student. The principal of Owings Mills High School had recommended Monday that the 16 students from his school be expelled, he said.

The students and parents appealed the principal's decision at yesterday's hearing before two regional representatives designated by the county school superintendent who upheld the principal's decision in half the cases.

"My parents and I feel that the superintendent was kind of biased," student Albert Reyes, who was expelled, said after his hearing. "We don't know what they're judging it on. The people who are not walking the stage are not wealthy. That's what I think it is."

Reyes insisted that he did not drink the night of the prom, but was expelled anyway.

"My mother came all the way from the Philippines to attend this graduation," Reyes said.

He and some of his friends who were also barred from graduation last night have devised their own ceremony for Thursday night.

"We're going to walk across my deck in our caps and gowns with beer cans on our heads," Reyes said.

Pub Date: 5/26/99

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