The parents of six students who admitted drinking wine during a Wilde Lake High School-sponsored trip to France say they will appeal their children's automatic punishment to the state Board of Education.
Their planned appeal follows a closed-door decision last week by Howard County School Superintendent Michael E. Hickey and the school board to affirm the students' punishment mandated under the school system's zero-tolerance drug and alcohol policy.
During the executive session last Thursday, Dr. Hickey and the board also agreed to review how the school system approves foreign trips and how the trips are supervised, including the penalties for rule violations, according to a letter Dr. Hickey sent to the parents Friday.
Dr. Hickey did not return phone calls yesterday seeking comment.
"They're telling us that the policies and penalties will be reviewed for kids in the future, but it's too bad for our kids," said Vicki Duvan, the parent of one of the six students who drank on the trip. "That's what we cannot accept. For them not to come back and help our kids is not acceptable."
Five students initially were caught drinking what they say was less than a glass of wine each during a 10-day, spring-break trip to France in April by 18 county high school students. A sixth student later admitted drinking alcohol during the trip, Ms. Duvan said.
The students were each suspended for five days and prohibited from participating in any extracurricular events for two grading periods -- the minimum punishment for a violation of the school system's policy.
At the beginning of each school year, students sign a statement acknowledging that they understand that policy, which calls for automatic punishment for alcohol use or possession at school or during school activities anywhere.
The students and their parents also signed a second agreement for them not to drink during the trip to France.
Ms. Duvan and the parents of the other students who admitted drinking small amounts of wine during the trip have asked both the governor's office and the state Department of Education to look into the matter.
While the parents agree that their children should be punished for drinking alcohol on the trip, they charge that the school system's punishment is too harsh -- particularly in prohibiting the students from participating in extracurricular events for the first quarter of what will be their senior year in high school.
If the parents file an appeal, the state school board will have to decide whether to hear the case or reject it, said Dr. Ronald A. Peiffer of the state Department of Education.
Dr. Peiffer said that his office -- the school and community outreach office -- has received phone calls from parents of some of the six students, but said it would be improper for him to comment on the specifics of the case.
The parents have succeeded in getting the school system to withdraw letters that had been sent to the county police and health departments notifying them of the underage alcohol violations.
Those letters should not have been sent because the drinking occurred in France, out of the jurisdiction of the county police and health officials, Dr. Hickey wrote.
The school system also has apologized to the students and parents for incorrectly telling them that the students were ineligible to attend prom last month.
Although school officials had decided two days before the prom that the students were permitted to attend, no one called the students or their parents to inform them.