County police have charged six Meade High School students with taking part in a Sept. 30 hallway brawl that sent five other students, a teacher and the school librarian to the hospital.
Two of the six students were charged with the most serious offense given in any of the juvenile citations -- assault with intent to maim -- for allegedly beating the school librarian, Donald Gobbi.
The charges were outlined in a news release issued yesterday in which police said they had learned "that racial tensions do exist in the school." The school has a population that is 45 percent black, 39 percent white, 9 percent Hispanic and 7 percent Asian.
The fight, however, did not start because of any racial tension, said Officer Randy Bell, a police spokesman.
The six students charged are black, Officer Bell said, but the charges are "not based on any racial, religious or ethnic incidents."
The two students whose argument triggered the melee have not been charged, he said.
The students had bumped into one another in the hallway earlier that day and later began arguing loudly in a locker area. As the argument escalated, a crowd gathered, but the two arguing students threw no punches, Officer Bell said.
"Their yelling at each other caused everybody to gather around, but the fight was not a result of them going to blows," Officer Bell said. "The other kids in the hallway just decided to whale on each other."
As of Friday, 17 students had been suspended for their actions.
At a meeting with about 130 parents last night, Meade Principal George Kispert acknowledged that the fight occurred a day after he had assured parents at a "Back to School Night" that their students were safe in school.
"My initial reaction, out of anger, frustration, disappointment, was that for anyone involved in any way, I needed to recommend expulsion," Mr. Kispert said. Then, he said, he took a good look at the information collected by administrators and detectives and realized the students involved fell into three categories -- "instigators," "assaulters" and "fighters."
Some students will be expelled, he said, but others will return to school.
Mr. Gobbi, however, apparently does not plan to return to school, Mr. Kispert said.
"He has made a request not to return to Meade, and I told him I would support him in whatever decision he made," Mr. Kispert said, noting Mr. Gobbi has taught there since the school opened in 1977.
Parents told Mr. Kispert that they needed to work together to make hallways safe, including having parents and teachers act as hall monitors, and that they need to build students' self-esteem.
Marie Taylor, whose son is a freshman, said she didn't think the fight started because of cultural or racial tension.
"The fight started because our children have no respect for themselves or each other," she said. "I'm not willing to say, 'Our school has a bad reputation, fix it.' I'm willing to do anything I can to help. But I want an assurance that my child is safe in school."
Cathy Kreutner, a 10th-grader, said she was upset by the publicity.
"The way the media has handled the situation has portrayed the school as a terrible place," she said. "It's not fair to students like myself who are trying hard and behaving."
There was disagreement as to whether racial tension really exists at the school, but Mr. Kispert said he is taking the complaints seriously.
Ummeil Muldrow, an 18-year-old senior, told Mr. Kispert he needed to make sure hallways are monitored.
"Yes, I do feel there's racial tension," said Ummeil Muldrow, an 18-year-old senior. "There's one teacher at the school who always has a racial comment to make to us. Teachers need to learn some respect, too."
Mr. Kispert said teachers, then students, will receive training in multicultural sensitivity.
"I'll be real honest," he told parents. "I don't know how we're going to do this, but unless we work together we're never going to rebuild this school as a place with a positive learning climate. Maybe if we bond together, we'll get some positive recognition."