Updated Tuesday – The reversal of the decision to ban six Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School (B-CC) seniors from next week’s graduation ceremony because they were allegedly drunk at prom has caused a furor among some staff, parents and teachers.
Members of the school community who spoke to Bethesda Beat Friday said the reversal—which came from Interim Superintendent Larry Bowers after formal appeals from the students and their families—undermines the authority of Principal Donna Redmond Jones and flies in the face of a renewed effort to end underage drinking before prom, homecoming and other school events.
Jones, the school’s first-year principal, instituted the rule that any student who showed up drunk or was found drinking at the May 6 prom wouldn’t be allowed to receive his or her diploma at the school’s graduation ceremony Wednesday at DAR Constitution Hall.
Sources said the rule was reinforced at multiple meetings with seniors and parents throughout the year. It was also written into the official prom sign-up form.
But on Friday, Bowers wrote a letter to families of seniors at the school saying that while he doesn’t condone underage drinking, creating a policy to ban all students caught drinking at prom from graduation ceremonies goes against Board of Education policy.
“The Board of Education policy is clear that, as a matter of general practice, the exclusion from commencement ceremonies may not be included in local school policies regarding disciplinary standards and procedures,” Bowers wrote. “However, principals retain the authority to exclude students from participation in commencement ceremonies for cause, on a case-by-case basis.”
Bowers said that he met with the students and determined they “received appropriate consequences under our discipline policy,” and should be allowed to take part in the graduation ceremony.
Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) doesn’t confirm or detail disciplinary infractions for specific students, but several sources said the six seniors were suspended for their actions at prom.
Some high school principals in MCPS are known to warn seniors they won’t be allowed to walk across the stage at graduation if they’re caught drinking at prom.
The school’s prom sign-up form included a section that read: “Note that any senior who is determined to be under the influence or in possession of [alcohol, inhalants, illegal drugs or controlled substances] when arriving at or during the course of Prom or After Prom will not participate in the on-stage distribution of diploma’s at B-CC’s graduation ceremony.”
Sources who spoke to Bethesda Beat on the condition of anonymity because they aren’t authorized to speak to the press said Bowers attended a meeting at the school Thursday with senior staff and members of the administration to discuss his decision.
The sources said staff members in the room openly criticized Bowers’ decision to allow the seniors to attend graduation but he stood by the ruling.
About 40 staff members who disagree with Bowers’ ruling held a meeting during lunch Friday to discuss the situation and potential next steps. One source said the group doesn’t have much hope Bowers will rethink the decision with graduation just a day away. On Tuesday, staff members showed their support for Jones by sending flowers to the school’s main office.
In his letter Friday, Bowers said he supports Jones despite reversing her decision.
“I want to be clear that I stand by Dr. Redmond-Jones and the parent, staff, and student leadership in their commitment to student safety and well being, and I am asking for the support of all of you in this critical work,” Bowers wrote. “We need to come together to continue to address the issue of alcohol and substance abuse in our communities, and I commend Dr. Redmond-Jones for her efforts this year.”