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Votes

Safety and Sensitivity

Churchill community continues to react to fight and subsequent e-mail from principal.

The PTSA Board at Winston Churchill High School gave Principal Joan C. Benz a unanimous vote of support last week, but the school continued to address fallout from an e-mail Benz sent on Jan. 4 that she later acknowledged was “racially insensitive.”

Following a fight between six Churchill students on Jan. 3 that resulted in county police filing assault charges against five of the students, Benz sent an e-mail to Churchill’s parents that said, “Every incident revolving around this two month ordeal has been Black-on-Black violence,” while lauding an increase in mean SAT scores among African-American students at Churchill. “Do you see how a very few students can paint a very negative and misleading picture?” Benz continued in her e-mail.

Within hours, Benz sent a second letter and email apologizing for the wording of her first e-mail.

BENZ APOLOGIZED again at a meeting on Jan. 9 that was requested by parents of some of Churchill’s African-American students.

Rev. Julie Harriday, a Churchill alumna whose four children attended Churchill cluster schools, attended the meeting. She said that she could forgive Benz’s comments, but could not forget that she made them. After all the years Benz has been principal, she should have known better, Harriday said.

“I don’t want to see her continue as the Churchill principal with those thoughts and that outlook,” said Harriday.

According to an e-mail from Churchill’s PTSA, the 29 members of Churchill’s PTSA executive board voted unanimously to accept Benz’s apology and support her continued tenure as Churchill’s principal. In the resolution, the PTSA said:

“Under Dr. Benz’s leadership, Winston Churchill High School has risen to one of the top performing high schools in the United States, ranking 76th in the nation on the 2006 Challenge Index, has the second highest SAT scores in competitive Montgomery County, and is one of two high schools in the state of Maryland to be honored with the prestigious Blue Ribbon Award for student performance.”

“I’m sure the PTA is going to endorse her,” Harriday said. “It’s time for the Board of Education to take their stand and step up now. … If you don’t want [Benz] to be a reflection of you, then you have to do something about it.”

County school staff members, along with parents, students, and business and community leaders were scheduled to speak at a meeting sponsored by Churchill’s PTSA at the school auditorium on Tuesday, Jan. 19, after The Almanac’s press deadline. The meeting was also scheduled to feature guest speaker Luis Cardona, youth violence prevention coordinator of the county’s Department of Health and Human Services Department.

“Obviously we take this incident very seriously,” said Brian Edwards, a county schools spokesperson. “Everybody wants to move ahead in a positive way.”

Benz recommended expulsion for the students charged in relation to the fight, but Edwards, while saying he could not discuss specifics about disciplinary matters, said the expulsion recommendation remained under consideration as of Tuesday.