A decision on athlete is awaited

Long Reach principal weighs whether star can play, stay in school

Answer may come tomorrow

Football player arrested at his home on marijuana charges

August 19, 1999|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

Had he sipped a beer on campus, Long Reach High School star athlete Devon Taron Conwell would have been automatically suspended from school and the football team.

Howard County police have charged Conwell, 17, with far more serious offenses -- including possession with intent to distribute marijuana -- but the all-county football and basketball player might continue to attend the school and play football.

Police said they also found two handguns in Conwell's home, but that also doesn't automatically mean he will be suspended from the school or the team.

It's against school policy to bring drugs, alcohol or handguns onto school property, but the school system doesn't set specific punishments for alleged off-campus drug-dealing or gun ownership.

Conwell's fate rests in the hands of David A. Bruzga, the principal of Long Reach High.

Bruzga said he hopes to decide by tomorrow whether he will allow Conwell to remain at the school and continue to play football.

Meanwhile, Bruzga said, Conwell is attending football practice but not participating.

Early this month, police raided Conwell's home, in the 8900 block of Footed Ridge in Columbia, and reported seizing 4.4 pounds of marijuana packaged for sale, $3,000 and two handguns. The drugs would have been worth about $4,500 on the street, police said.

Police arrested five males, including Conwell, who was charged as an adult with possession with intent to distribute marijuana, possession of marijuana and possession of drug-related paraphernalia.

Lt. Tim Branning, who supervises the county's vice and narcotics unit, said additional charges might be filed against Conwell.

Branning said he suspects that Conwell's involvement was at or near Long Reach High School.

"We believe that some dealing involved students of Long Reach High School," Branning said.

Bruzga said he is waiting to see whether police file further charges against Conwell before he makes a decision.

He said he had talked to Conwell and his parents and will confer with teachers and look at Conwell's grades.

He said he also will take into account Conwell's status as an "outstanding" athlete at the school.

"The other factor you have to consider is what's in the best interests of the particular student," Bruzga said. "You are making some very important decisions that could seriously and irrevocably affect a student's future."

Conwell's case is being much discussed in public-school athletic circles as Bruzga's decision is awaited.

If he punishes Conwell, which he can do by law even though Conwell has not been convicted, critics might say Conwell has not been found guilty and therefore should be allowed to play football.

If Bruzga does not punish Conwell, he might invite criticism that he is favoring Conwell because he is a star athlete.

There are few precedents, at least on the record.

Most students charged with crimes are not charged as adults, and police therefore do not release their names.

For confidentiality reasons, school officials do not talk about specific students charged with crimes and how they are treated.

But several years ago, while on an exchange program in France, five Wilde Lake High School students who drank wine were suspended for five days and prohibited from participating in extracurricular activities for two grading periods.

One of them, Giordano Fillipponi, 17, a soccer player, was suspended from the team for two grading periods for drinking a half-glass of wine at dinner. He had been the top scorer on the soccer team for two seasons.

Bruzga said a crucial difference exists between that situation and this one: The exchange students were representing the school while drinking.

A student caught with drugs or guns in a residence, not representing the school, is not analogous, he said.

A student bringing drugs, guns or alcohol onto campus faces automatic suspension from school and extracurricular activities, according to school policy, Bruzga said.

Dorothy Griggs, president of the Parent-Teacher-Student Association at Long Reach, said she would support whatever decision Bruzga makes.

Asked whether she thinks the policy for alleged off-campus drug dealing is too lenient, especially compared with the treatment of the student who drank a half-glass of wine in France, Griggs said, "I will say this, and I think this is significant: Someone is innocent unless proven guilty. And there may be extenuating circumstances. We don't know."

Pub Date: 8/19/99

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