Debate continues on when, and how, to use school discipline

WASHINGTON — After a principal’s decision to bar six high school students from graduating Wednesday was reversed, there was criticism from a number of parents that Larry Bowers, interim superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools, had undermined the authority of the principal.

The students were originally barred from graduation ceremonies for showing up to prom drunk.

But James Koutsos, president of the Montgomery County Association of Administrators and Principals, says a larger message on teen alcohol use may be getting lost in the debate over how the students at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School were disciplined.

“We’re at a critical crossroads in our communities and nationwide” when it comes to substance abuse, Koutsos says, adding that the focus should be on ways to help children make better decisions.

But some parents who support BCC principal Dr. Donna Redmond Jones’ decision to bar the students from graduation ceremonies feel the message is diluted when the penalty goes away.

Koutsos says that “discipline isn’t something that’s done to someone, but actually done for someone” so that students can learn from their actions.

In his letter explaining his decision to let the students attend the ceremonies, Bowers said the six cases were looked at on their own merits. Koutsos says school officials consider general policies and the circumstances surrounding every case of student discipline.

“Where we’ve run into a bit of a conflict and a bit of an issue is really around a due process issue now,” Koutsos said.

The school’s policy is to use the least onerous measure to get a point across, though Koutsos says there is the rare case that could deserve missing out on graduation.

“We never deny a diploma, we never deny an opportunity for a student to graduate … [but] there are rare instances where we have, and perhaps it is appropriate, to withhold a student from participation,” Koutsos said.

He adds that principals know that a superintendent does have the authority to exercise judgment when a principal’s decision is appealed.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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