Five students, including one who was scheduled to speak at the Glenelg High School graduation Tuesday, were barred from commencement after being caught while intoxicated at a school event a few days earlier.
The disciplinary action stemmed from the school's Senior Night, a dinner and dance held at the Columbia Sheraton on May 25.
"They were obviously intoxicated," said Patti Caplan, spokeswoman for the system, who did not disclose the identities of the five students. "As a result of that, they couldn't walk across the stage at graduation."
Caplan said the students' parents were notified of the incident that night.
Karl Schindler, principal at Glenelg High School, could not be reached for comment at the end of the week.
Recent Glenelg High School graduate Chris Pickett said the incident was untimely.
"Graduation is graduation," the 18-year-old from Mount Airy said. "It is 12 years of your education. It is unfortunate that some students made a bad decision."
Pickett said the students' absence from the graduation was not that noticeable.
"Maybe to those that were close to them," Pickett said. "Everyone [else] was trying to celebrate graduation, and that was good."
This is not the first time that Howard County high school students have been caught intoxicated at school-sponsored events.
Five students were kicked out of Mount Hebron High School's Beach Bash II dance Feb. 17 because they were believed to be drunk.
Police believe that alcohol and speed were factors in a single-car crash that night that killed one student headed to the dance and sent two others to the hospital.
School system officials were compiling statistics on alcohol-related suspensions as of Friday and could not release the most recent numbers. During the 2004-2005 school year there were 48 alcohol-related suspensions in Howard County.
In the 2004 Maryland Adolescent Survey, 63 percent of state high school seniors admitted to drinking alcohol during the previous year, compared with the national average of 70.6 percent. In Howard County, 64.9 percent of seniors said they drank within the past year.
Laura Smit, executive director of HC DrugFree, a nonprofit Howard organization, said the Glenelg situation was particularly surprising and disturbing, especially because of the earlier Mount Hebron incidents.
"You think that losing a peer" would get the message across," Smit said.
Smit said the focus needs to be on parents.
"There are too many parents that are providing alcohol and taking away the keys, which is giving the message that drinking is OK," Smit said. "Parents don't feel that they will really get fined. If something happens to a kid at your house, you can be sued."
Joshua Kaufman, chairman of the county school board, said the school system works closely with the Howard County Police Department and PTA groups to discourage underage drinking.
"It is very frustrating for us," he said. "We see the consequences of it. We push very hard to minimize the problem in Howard County, but it is impossible to make it go away entirely."