Search of seniors leaves a bitter taste in Howard

The Baltimore Sun

Bill Reybold departed for his freshman year at the University of Delaware last week filled with excitement and anticipation. The Howard County resident also took along lingering bitterness from his high school graduation last spring.

Reybold recounted that all of the boys in the Reservoir High School Class of 2008 were hand-searched by three teachers moments before taking the stage during graduation ceremonies at Merriweather Post Pavilion. The search was prompted, the school's principal said, by rumors that students planned to dress in bras and panties and flash the audience.

"I was kind of shocked," said Reybold, an honors student who made the all-county lacrosse team last year. "It ruined the whole mood of graduation."

The search drew little attention at the time or over the summer. But Reybold's mother attended a recent county school board meeting to complain about it - and school officials now acknowledge that the teachers went too far.

"It's not a practice of the school system to search kids at graduation or at any other time unless there is some real safety issue or other critical reason to do so," Howard County schools Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin said. "We don't do this as a practice at all."

Cousin said he does not consider the search a violation of school system policy. But he said that it was "something that will not happen in the future."

At the board meeting last month, Reybold's mother, Julie, demanded an apology from the school's principal.

Adrianne Kaufman, who has been principal at the school since it opened seven years ago, offered her first public apology Thursday during a PTA meeting.

"As far as the class of 2008, I am trying to figure out the best way to communicate that," she said Friday afternoon.

Cousin said he was told that the search was the idea of a few teachers. He declined to disclose names, or say whether they faced disciplinary actions.

Kaufman said she had asked her teachers to make sure students did not bring items onto the stage that would disrupt the ceremony.

"The students were asked to unzip [their gowns] to make sure that they didn't have undergarments under their clothes," Kaufman said. "Not every male student was patted down. ... We didn't want beach balls or silly string."

No items were confiscated, and the graduation went off without incident, Kaufman said.

Cousin said the school system wants to ensure that the ceremonies occur "with dignity" so they can be enjoyed by all.

Administrators at schools elsewhere in the nation were faced with disruptions during graduations last spring.

The principal of a high school near Austin, Texas, refused to distribute diplomas to the entire graduating class until he found who was responsible for blowing up beach balls and bouncing them around during graduation, according to news reports. And in Columbia, S.C., seven people were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct for cheering boisterously during ceremonies in June.

At Reservoir High, students wouldn't have dared to disrupt the ceremony, Reybold said. Kaufman had warned students at each of the five practices leading to the ceremony that she would withhold diplomas from anyone who misbehaved.

"Because of that threat, no one was going to do anything," Reybold said. The search "sent the wrong message to me."

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