Who is in charge of the Montgomery County, Md., public schools? Recent events involving student beer drinking and cocaine use in student advertisements in a high-school yearbook raise the possibility that the answer might be several students and the American Civil Liberties Union, rather than the superintendent and principals.
Because your account of the incident (“Md. Local Board Allows Controversial Yearbook Ad,” Education Week, March 14, 1984) is incomplete and misleading, it is important to fill in the critical elements that were omitted.
When the editors of Bethesda’s Walter Johnson High School yearbook decided to publish 10 full-color, full-page ads depicting under-age students illegally drinking beer and another half-page ad referring to cocaine use and teen-age sex, the faculty advisor told the students they could not do so. The school principal and the deputy superintendent--acting for the county superintendent--supported the principal.
Following a hearing before the board of education, at which the students were defended by aclu lawyers, four members of the board (a majority) voted “most reluctantly” to reverse the superintendent’s position and to allow the students to include the 10 and a half pages of ads in the yearbook.
Prior to this hearing, the aclu had gone to court in an attempt to reverse the superintendent’s position and was prepared to take the board to court the very next morning if it did not accede to the students’ demands. Instead, the next day, the yearbook editors decided to remove one ad that contained a border of beer cans, four mock tombstones, and the reference to cocaine use and teen-age sex. The 10 full-color pages containing many pictures of students drinking beer are still in the yearbook. This creates the impression that high school is a big beer blast.
Since the decision was announced, the board and individual members have received numerous letters and telephone calls from parents in the community who are outraged at this irresponsible decision. First, it is illegal for students under the age of 21 to drink in the state of Maryland, and drug use is illegal and dangerous at any age. Second, this county has devoted years of time, effort, and taxpayers’ dollars attacking a serious drug and alcohol problem in our schools.
Parents feel that these yearbook ads glamorize and promote the use of illegal drugs and alcohol for school-age children and encourage young people to break the law. One mother asked, “With the national attention given to the drunk-driving problem, why would a ‘responsible’ school board even consider hearing the [case] when the principal had already taken care of it?”
Clearly, the school and the district are responsible for and have control over the contents of the yearbook. The school system is responsible for publishing the book, and, like any publisher, can refuse to include anything it considers inappropriate. While current school guidelines address this situation quite adequately, the board and superintendent are now preparing new guidelines and examining the high-school journalism curriculum.
You quote the students’ lawyer as saying, “We’ve agreed to work with the school board in the development of new guidelines.” This statement by the students’ lawyer is misleading since the lawyer has never been asked to work with the board.
For several years, Montgomery County has been trying to make major reforms in our schools to overcome many years of permissiveness. Unfortunately, this decision by a new board majority to buckle under to the students’ demands sends a message to the community that “anything goes” in our schools. The board should have firmly supported the superintendent and principal and let the citizens of the county know that responsible adults are in control of the schools.
Suzanne Peyser Member Montgomery County Board of Education Montgomery County, Md.
After nearly 32 years in public-school education (including 26 as an elementary-school principal) and factory experience in my youth, it disturbed me to see John C. Board, president of the Montana Education Association and chairman of the National Education Association committee studying differentiated staffing, comparing principals to shop stewards (“Teaching: The Pressure for Change Is Mounting,” Education Week, March 21, 1984). In my recollection, shop stewards represent the union. Principals would be compared more accurately to foremen or supervisors.
With regard to “a different kind of management,” care should be taken not to “throw the baby out with the bath water.” Perhaps all the articles that say the key to a successful school is the principal are not true.
William W. Matthews Principal Potter Road School Framingham, Mass.
It is becoming more and more clear to me that the phrase “separation of church and state” actually means “shut up the Christians.” At a time when everyone likes to believe that all groups are fairly represented and listened to by the media, the general public, and groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, Christians are being blatantly discriminated against.
We--Christians--are not supposed to ask that creationism be presented with evolution in the schools, for that would be pushing our beliefs onto others. We are supposed to accept, without complaint, textbooks that teach evolution as fact rather than theory. We are supposed to sit cowering in a corner while the government works in our schools, telling us what we can and cannot teach, and what kind of a mold our teachers should come out of. We are not to mention the name Jesus, lest we be labeled born-again fanatics.
I strongly believe that our founding fathers would be aghast at how this nation has twisted the original purpose of separation of church and state from a means of protecting God-fearing people to a way of silencing and controlling them while the religion of secularism prevails.
All of this just drives home what was already known from the beginning--that, according to I Corinthians 1:18: “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved, it is the power of God.”
Rebecca Boyd Bethel Lutheran School Westmont, Ill.
A version of this article appeared in the April 04, 1984 edition of Education Week as Letters To The Editor