Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Principal has to apologize for pointing out that school violence was black-on-black


The principal of a Montgomery County high school caused controversy with remarks she made about a fight involving purported gang members at the high school.

A letter from Joan Benz, Churchill's principal, was sent home to parents on Wednesday. It said one of the students "was kicked, his glasses broken, and he has cuts and scrapes on his face and arms."

It also said that as of Jan. 8 students will no longer be allowed to wear hats or any kind of head covering or anything that could be related to gangs.

"I have failed to mention another devastating fact," the letter said. "Every incident revolving around this two-month ordeal has been black-on-black violence."

Benz later wrote another letter to parents to apologize for the comment, which some people deemed as racially insensitive.

"I deeply apologize to our Churchill students and parents who were offended and want to reassure you that I value each and every student in our school community and work every day to make sure each student is successful," the letter said. "I did not intend to single out one group of students in a negative light. I am particularly sorry that my choice of words reflected racial insensitivity."

Benz reiterated those sentiments to News4's Megan McGrath Friday morning.

"I go way out of my way, very honestly, to collaborate with various communities to bring African-American kids into my building and to be sure they're successful," she said.

News4's Darcy Spencer said the community's reaction to the first letter has been mixed. Benz said she has received support from some black parents in the community.

The fight occurred at Churchill High School in the 11300 block of Gainsborough Road in Potomac on Wednesday.

Police said that at about 11:25 a.m., officers went to the school on a report of a fight in progress outside the building. Police saw many students being separated by school security officers.

"As the fight was going on, a security guard got involved in trying to break it up, and then another individual came in and started kicking the other individuals on the ground," said Montgomery County Police Chief Thomas Manger.

Investigators determined that the fight between six male students began near the school store because of previous disagreements between the students. Authorities said the fight was over a girl.

A verbal argument escalated when one student suggested they take it outside. Other students followed in order to watch, police said. A code blue was activated during the fight.

A 16-year-old student and a 52-year-old security guard were treated for scratches and bruises at the scene.

Police said the same students were involved in a fight at the school in November. The school conducted mediation involving the students, parents, staff and police after that fight, but another incident occurred away from the school in December. Wednesday's fight apparently came in reaction to the December incident.

Police said animosity exists between two groups of students. One group is affiliated with the street gang 54 Mob, according to authorities.

"They fit our definition in the county as an active gang: growing in membership, responsible for recent criminal activity, a threat to the community," said Detective Rob Musser.

Police said they do not consider the fights gang-related, even though gang members were involved.

A 16-year-old, a 14-year-old and a 15-year-old were charged as juveniles with one count each of second-degree assault and disturbing school activities. A 16-year-old was charged with one count of disturbing school activities. And a 16-year-old was charged with two counts of second-degree assault. Each of the teens was released to the custody of family members.

New Churchill dress code aims to quell gang-related violence

The Conflicting Rules of Race Trip Up a Principal's Tongue

Churchill fight aftermath: Parents unhappy with principal’s solution

Brawl Prompts Restrictions

Black and white parents back Benz


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