Alexandria school Superintendent Rebecca L. Perry made her first public statements Tuesday about her arrest on drunk driving charges a week ago. She first met with T. C. Williams High School seniors and then faced the media outside the central school office building. She did not respond to questions from either group.
"I'm sure you've heard about what happened last week and I wanted to come to you first and personally to offer my apology because you are the ones I feel that I have let down the most," Perry said to the students.
"Last Thursday evening, I was tired and stressed and I wanted to "unwind." I should have gone home and walked on the treadmill to release my tension and gotten a hug from my daughter to comfort me. Instead, I decided to join friends at a restaurant for some wine. That was a big mistake...
"Moments after leaving the restaurant, I was stopped and arrested for driving while intoxicated. It was the most humiliating experience of my life...If you think for one instant you can drink anything and drive -- you are mistaken -- you can't," she said.
Perry was arrested at around 12:30 a.m. on Friday. She was driving near Duke Street and Holland Lane. An officer observed her driving erratically, crossing a double yellow line. He stopped her and she failed to pass field sobriety tests. She was charged with driving while intoxicated and crossing a double yellow line. The offense is a misdemeanor and carries a fine of up to $2,500, up to a year of incarceration and the possibility of losing driving privileges for a year.
"I took a drink and I drove a car," Perry said to the students. "...The consequences have been disastrous...I made a mistake that I will never make again -- and I urge you not to ever do the same. I am and will forever be sorry for and pay for this."
MANY OF THE nearly 600 seniors listened to Perry's 15-minute apology. "I felt that she was really sincere and that it took a lot of guts for her to come to us," said Will Kuckro. "However, if I took a drink and people at T. C. knew about it, I would not be allowed to continue as a member of the crew team. I feel sorry for her but I don't think she should keep her job."
Ashley Dawkins, the senior class vice president, said, "I think Ms. Perry was sincere in what she was saying and that she really knows that what she did was wrong. I am glad that she came to us, the students, and spoke to us on a personal level instead of letting us hear things through the news and other sources. It made the apology mean a lot more," she said. "I trust that our School Board will make the right decision, and if they feel that she should stay, I support them."
Adam Navarrez, a student athlete, said, "I think she will serve as superintendent but her image will be tainted forever. I would keep her in that position because she has proven that she is remorseful for her actions and that she is qualified for the position. If she is fired, she will never be able to find that job anywhere else, so she will try as hard as she can to keep her job and the Board will feel sorry and keep her in the system."
Rachel Thongtavee had a different point of view. "I feel really bad for her...I'm sorry that she made that decision...But I still think she should not hold the superintendent position. She did exactly what they are telling us not to do...and she's a big girl; she's allowed to drink; but the second she got into that car and drove is where she messed up. She's lost all credibility," she said.
Marshall McClure said, "I thought she was basically just trying to justify what she did. I don't think it was really genuine...Also, she said she had one drink and because she was a woman she wasn't able to handle as much as a man...That's B.S. Nobody gets drunk off one drink...They go so hard on teens about drinking and driving, but this is the superintendent. How are they supposed to tell us not to do it (and I'm not saying it's right) and the superintendent's doing it?"
Ramone Thomas III was concerned about the double standard. "She didn't think about us when she did that," he said. "And if one of our athletes did that, they'd never have time to regret it because they'd be immediately kicked off the team without being able to speak for themselves. She did the right thing by coming and apologizing to us...And she showed heart and emotion in front of an entire group of people," he said.
Tiffany Young, the class secretary, shared many of the concerns of her classmates. "I really don't know how I feel about Mrs. Perry's speech," she said. "In her speech she said that she cared about us and she was there for us, but how is that the case if this is half of the senior class's first time even seeing her? What Mrs. Perry did is wrong and there is no excuse for it. She is the lady that comes before the senior class every year right before prom and says "Don't drink and drive"."
PARENTS ALSO SHARED some of the students' concerns. "I was sorry to read Rebecca Perry's statement to T. C. students that she had 'a drink.' This assertion is untenable and continues the pattern of lack of personal responsibility on her part. While apologizing at one meeting, she was being less truthful at another. I know this is a difficult time but I urge the School Board to remove her from her position as a first step in renewing constituent trust," said Jim Boissonnault, the parent of a Lyles-Crouch student.
At the time of her arrest, Perry's blood alcohol content was measured at .12. The legal limit in Virginia is .08. The Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP) says that a a woman who weighs 120 pounds must consume four drinks in two hours to reach a .12 blood alcohol content. A woman who weighs 140 pounds must consume four to five drinks in two hours to reach the same BAC. Perry was at the restaurant where she went to drink with friends for no more than two hours.
Since Perry's arrest, the School Board has held two lengthy meetings and will hold another before making any decision. "I am leading the Board in a fact-finding investigation into this incident," said Board chairman Mark Wilkoff, in a statement after Friday night's meeting. "I am very disappointed..."
Former School Board member Linwood Campbell would not comment specifically on Perry's arrest, preferring to allow the judicial system to take its course. "I do believe that School Board members and the superintendent of schools are, and should be held to a higher standard than members of the general public," he said. "When they accept those positions, they accept that responsibility. Since my tenure on the Board, I have advised a number of individuals who were running for various offices and have cautioned them about their behavior."
Rodger Digilio, another former School Board member served on the search committee with Campbell that went to Mecklenburg County when Perry was hired also expressed his concern. "It is times like this that make me glad I am a former School Board member," Digilio said. "Being the superintendent of schools is one of those unique positions that require moral leadership."
WHEN PERRY WAS arrested, School Board member Melissa W. Luby was in the car with her and had been drinking at Joe Theismann's Restaurant with her. At the time of Perry's arrest, Luby telephoned Mayor William D. Euille to ask for his assistance. He did not get involved. Luby has not been permitted to participate in Board deliberations about Perry's status as she has a conflict of interest. No one is willing to discuss Luby's own status as a member of the School Board at this time.
Regarding Perry's status, Euille did comment, saying, "I do not see how she can continue to lead the School system after this incident," he said. "The Board needs to put this incident behind us and focus on the positive things that the school system is doing..."
Perry 's first court appearance is scheduled for April 29. The School Board has promised a decision about her status by the end of the week. In the meantime, she remains on leave with pay.