Robyn Solomon and the parent community at Winston Churchill High School needed little persuasion that tougher rules are in order at the school.
Solomon, Churchill’s second-year PTA president, said, “It was an easy sell — we lost two students last year,” including Sarkis “Sako” Nazarian Jr., who died last November in an alcohol-related driving accident.
In the mid-1990s, Jerome Marco, then principal at Walt Whitman High School, established a “zero tolerance” policy under which any student who possessed or used alcohol or drugs on school property was suspended from all school-sanctioned activities for a year. At the time and thereafter, Marco said he was weary of attending the funeral of a student who died in a drunk driving accident almost every year.
CHURCHILL’S NEW disciplinary policy might be better described as “three strikes and you’re out.” Punishment for a first-time offender is not as severe as Whitman’s — students in violation are suspended from activities for 30 days, or a full sports season for athletes. But a third-time violator is suspended from extracurricular activities for the rest of high school. It’s essentially a “two strikes” policy for upperclassmen, who lose two years of privileges upon the second offense.
“We’re not trying to be punitive, but we’re not going to be in a situation where we risk kids’ lives,” said Joan Benz, Churchill’s principal.
In addition to suspension from school activities, students in violation will lose open lunch privileges and their parking space at school, if they have one. Solomon hopes putting these privileges at stake will cause Churchill students to take notice. “I don’t know how the kids are going to feel about it. We got them where it hurts,” Solomon said.
Solomon remains concerned that not only has student behavior been unaffected by last year’s events, but parent behavior is largely unchanged too.
“A lot of parents come to the meetings, but it’s always the same, it’s always the choir we keep preaching to,” Solomon said. “Parents have to keep communication with each other. "
She hopes that more parents will be realistic about what is happening in the lives of their children, communicate more and worry less about their child’s popularity among their peers. “Parents have to stop providing alcohol,” Solomon said. “You want your kid to be popular, so you allow them to do this.”
On Nov. 13-14, right before Churchill’s Homecoming, students will participate in “Every 15 Minutes,” a program designed to enhance awareness of drunk driving. Whitman and Richard Montgomery high schools have participated in the program in recent years, and Solomon said it is particularly relevant to the Churchill community this year.
“This is all in light of what happened,” Solomon said. “We had to do something. … We’re going to keep having different drug and alcohol awareness programs.”
Some changes in students’ lives came from on high, like the state legislation that prohibits beginning drivers from having passengers in the car or talking on cell phones.
TRENDS IN STUDENT clothing — or lack thereof — prompted Churchill to revamp its dress code this year. “The girls wore clothing that was fashionable … but it really was not appropriate for school,” Benz said. “The guys were often wearing muscle shirts. … We just want to cover up a lot of skin.”
Solomon and Benz said this was desired by the parent community as well as many teachers.
“The teachers were uncomfortable; they didn’t want to approach [students],” Solomon said. Instead of teachers enforcing the dress code, Churchill’s administrators are responsible for doing so. Administrators will address violations as they see fit — there are no specified punishments for violating the dress code, and the situation can be resolved by giving the student an oversized T-shirt to wear, Benz said.
Over the summer, Churchill students produced a video about the dress code that will be shown to all students. Each student must also sign a copy of the dress code at the beginning of the school year.
Last year, Churchill piloted a new grading and reporting policy that the county school system intended to implement across the board. Solomon and Laura Siegel, another Churchill PTSA member, took exception to many of the grading policy’s features, like forbidding teachers from grading homework, and awarding a student a minimum score of 50 percent on any test.
Solomon expects both of these proposals are dead in the water, and she will serve on the county’s grading implementation team this year. “Hopefully it won’t be as much of an issue,” Solomon said.
A VISIT TO CHURCHILL can give a fresh perspective to a concerned parent, Solomon said. Despite the troubling issues that need attention from parents and school staff, Solomon loves to see the diversity of Churchill students’ achievements.
“Our kids are great athletes, great students and great musicians — they’re really well rounded,” Solomon said. “It just blew my mind last year every time when we went to a different part of the building.”
Churchill launches its academy of international studies and foreign languages this year. It is Churchill’s third signature academy, an option for students who may already choose academically intensive courseloads in science and mathematics or the performing arts.
“We’re looking for a great school year academically,” Benz said. “I’m anxious for the students to come back.”
ALCOHOL AND DRUG ABUSE POLICY
Possession and/or use is illegal and thus a criminal offense. Police will be notified and this may result in expulsion from MCPS.
* 1st Offense — Any MCPS student with verified use or possession of alcohol, illegal drugs, and/or controlled substances on school property or at a school sanctioned event, shall receive a 10-day suspension from school and a consecutive 30 school day suspension from all extracurricular activities.
Resumption of extracurricular activities will not occur until the completion of a counseling component.
Athletes will not participate for the remainder of the season. Students who hold a leadership position within a team, club or other school organization will have to step down from that position. Students who possess parking passes or lunch passes will relinquish those passes for the year. Other students will be prohibited from entering the lottery for a parking lot space in the future.
* 2nd Offense — Two year suspension from activities from the date of the infraction.
* 3rd Offense — Suspension from all extra and co-curricular activities for the duration of high schools.
As part of the local discipline policy at Churchill High School, the following guidelines for student dress have been adopted:
* Underwear cannot be exposed, even when engaging in routine activities such as bending, sitting or stretching. Transparent clothing (including cotton made of a mesh material) that exposes underwear cannot be worn.
* The mid-section of the body and the rib cage must be completely covered. No bare midriffs or muscle shirts exposing the rib cage will be allowed.
* No tube tops, strapless tops or backless halters can be worn.
* The length and cut of skirts, shorts and shirts must provide coverage of the upper and lower body. No cleavage can be visible.
* Hats and other clothing advertising alcohol, tobacco products or illegal substances are not permitted.
* Any clothing with profanity, as well as any clothing that communicates explicit or implied messages of a sexual nature is prohibited.
* No apparel suggestive of gang activity can be worn.