Mount Hebron students protesting punishment for drinking overseas

Teens on school-sponsored trip to Europe say teacher told them one drink was OK

April 15, 2005|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

Several Mount Hebron High School students are protesting their punishment for drinking during a school-sponsored overseas trip to Portugal and Spain - which they say occurred only after their teacher told them they could have one drink.

Ten of the 16 students on the trip during spring break were disciplined for violating the school system's drug and alcohol policy - each receiving a three-day suspension and a 30-day ban from extracurricular activities, including tomorrow's prom, according to several of the students and parents involved.

The policy calls for suspension for up to 30 days, along with the ban from school events, for a first-time offense. Nevertheless, the students and their parents called the punishment harsh, considering the unusual circumstance surrounding the incident.

"I believe they should have detention, but not suspension and a 30-day ban on extracurricular activities," said Rebecca Garcia, parent of senior Blake, a member of the track team who cannot participate in practices or competitions. "My whole point is that the teacher chaperone said they could drink. They felt it was OK. None of the rest matters. If a policeman waves you through a red light, you don't expect to get a ticket."

All Howard County school system rules, including the drug and alcohol policy, apply to students on school-sponsored field trips. The students and their parents all signed such an agreement before the trip, said school spokeswoman Patti Caplan.

School officials are investigating allegations that the teacher who chaperoned the trip gave students permission to drink, Caplan said. School officials would not release the teacher's name because of personnel reasons.

Garcia and other parents met with top school administrators Wednesday to appeal the punishment and express concerns about whether proper procedures were followed in disciplining their children.

Administrators are expected to make a decision by today on whether suspension procedures were followed, said David Bruzga, an administrator director for secondary schools. Parents have also filed an appeal to the Board of Education.

School officials say there were two incidents in which the students violated the drug and alcohol policy. The first occurred March 27 at a karaoke bar in Portugal, where students consumed alcohol, Caplan said.

A second incident occurred two days later in Spain, where school officials say students broke curfew and went to a nearby bar. Three students interviewed said the teacher's adult son, who joined the group on the trip, accompanied them to the bar.

At the karaoke bar, students said, their teacher told the group that they could have one drink. Most countries in Europe, including Portugal, allow people to drink wine and beer at 16.

The teacher "walked up to us and says, `It's all right with me if you order one but only one alcoholic beverage,' " said Blake Garcia, who had a glass of red wine - the only alcohol he said he had during the trip.

Lynne Ault, 17, a senior, said she had a glass of white wine that evening.

"I thought it was part of experiencing the culture of Europe," said Lynne, who admitted to breaking curfew but said she did not drink at the bar in Spain.

Asked whether she remembered the school system's drug and alcohol policy, Ault said, "What are you going to believe? A policy you signed months ago or a teacher who's standing there and says it's OK?"

Garcia, Ault and another senior, Courtney Pomeroy, are returning to school today after completing their three-day suspension.

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