Seven hours elapsed between the time two female students were found unconscious Monday in a bathroom at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School and the time school officials communicated with parents. The lag, filled with rumors and the reporting of the B-CC student newspaper, has prompted criticism from students and parents.
“We’re struggling with basic communication and basic outreach issues here,” said Lyric Winik, president of the school’s PTSA. A Montgomery County Public Schools spokesperson attributed the delay to the need to protect student privacy. The school has scheduled an emergency meeting for Jan. 30.
Shortly after 8 a.m., two girls were found on a bathroom floor. One witness described the students as “clearly drunk, slurring their words” and another was so alarmed that they immediately started shouting for help, according to reporting by B-CC student newspaper The Tattler.
The school called 911, and students’ first period was extended while paramedics responded to the scene, according to an email sent to B-CC community members by Principal Shelton Mooney at 3:30 p.m., obtained by Bethesda Beat. The two students “appeared to be under the influence of alcohol” and were taken to a hospital via ambulance, he wrote.
Mooney’s 3:30 email was the first communication parents received from the school on the morning’s events. In the absence of any official school messaging, rumors began spreading as people speculated about what exactly had happened.
Winik said she received a text around 8:25 a.m. with a “disturbing photo” of the unconscious students taken by someone at the school.
“My phone immediately started blowing up with parents who were seeing the same thing,” she said.
Bennett Galper, a B-CC junior and section director of The Tattler, said the photos showed the students’ legs on the bathroom floor and that it was “pretty clear they were passed out.”
Several students told Bethesda Beat how quickly the photos traveled around school from cell phone to cell phone, fueling gossip and speculation.
B-CC senior Isabella Kreidler told Bethesda Beat in a message that teachers were only emailed about a “medical emergency on the second-floor bathroom” and that her math teacher initially thought there was a shooter in the school—until students showed him the photos. She described the morning as “pretty confusing.”
Galper said he heard another rumor that the students had overdosed on fentanyl, which he said “would have been pretty believable” given the recent countywide surge in adolescent overdoses.
He and fellow Tattler reporter Katherine Jones published an article around 12:10 p.m. setting the rumors to rest. Winik sent a message to parents through the PTSA’s ListServe system linking to the story in The Tattler. It was the only substantive or reliable information parents received about the incident until Mooney’s 3:30 email, she said.
“The Tattler reported on it really quickly […], and the principal gave an announcement that just said not to spread falsehoods,” Kreidler wrote to Bethesda Beat.
Mooney informed students via a midday announcement that there had been a medical emergency involving the need for an ambulance and the two students had been safely transported to a hospital, but no further details were provided.
“The problem is that we’re approaching the end of the school day, and there’s still not an official message that’s gone out to parents,” Winik told Bethesda Beat around 1 p.m. Monday.
Galper said in his experience at B-CC, “stalling to get the word out” seems to be a trend with the administration and one he hopes is addressed.
“The fact that the school newspaper was the first thing to tell people what happened is a little bit concerning,” he said.
MCPS communications director Jessica Baxter confirmed to Bethesda Beat that medical personnel responded to an emergency at B-CC but could not comment further “due to student privacy laws.”
Looking back on the day’s events, Katherine Jones said she’s incredibly disturbed by the actions of her two fellow students.
“Honestly, it’s really alarming. I’d never heard of anything like that happening,” she told Bethesda Beat. “I’ve never heard of people purposefully going so hard to that extent with something like alcohol—something so visibly trackable compared to something like a vape.”
She added, “The fact that this is where we’re at now as a generation feels sickening and scary.”
Winik said the PTSA requested an emergency safety meeting be held as soon as possible to address substance use issues and other concerns at B-CC.
“I think we need a lot more transparency at the school level and at the MCPS level, especially if we’re going to avert tragedies,” she said.
In his email, Mooney told families B-CC will host a virtual “community conversation about school safety” at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 30 and provided a link to register for the event.
He added, “Spreading rumors and sharing information and images that are inaccurate is quite hurtful to all parties involved in situations like this. We can support each other and work to make sure that B-CC is a safe place for everyone.”