Sunday, February 03, 2002

Zero tolerance


St. Ursula expels 7 students

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        Seven girls were kicked out of St. Ursula Academy in Walnut Hills on Jan. 24 for what the school delicately described as an “alcohol incident.” A student spiked a bottle of fruit juice with some kind of liquor.

        “I don't know what it was,” one of the students said. Only 14, she lacks the experience to discern gin from bourbon. But she knew it was alcohol. And she knew she should have marched up to the front of the classroom and reported the girl sitting next to her in computer lab.

        But she didn't.

        She took a sip. Then she “knowingly transported it and caused others to be victims of the abuse,” according to a letter from principal Frances Romweber. The girl who brought the alcohol to school “poured some in my mug,” the 14-year-old says. “And I was carrying it to the restroom to pour it out.” But on the way, two curious friends each took a sip. Then they poured it down the drain in the bathroom. “We hoped this would all go away.”

Withdrawal pains

        No such luck. Somebody blabbed. And the girls were called in for questioning. Everybody confessed. Their parents were called — and the girls were suspended, pending a hearing. Tears. Scowls.

        “This is not a case of parents who are permissive,” one father insists. He says he thought he and his wife were in a sort of partnership with the school, to impress upon their daughter the seriousness of the offense. “So we didn't argue at the hearing, didn't defend our daughter.”

        They expected some kind of punishment. Detention? Loss of extracurricular privileges? But a week later, they got a certified letter from Mrs. Romweber.

        “As soon as I have checked with the business department regarding any yet outstanding debts, I will initiate and facilitate the sending of her transcript to the school of choice with "withdrawal' as the reason for transfer.”

        They were responsible for tuition for the balance of the year — about $2,600 — otherwise “no transcripts or records can be released,” according to another letter from the school.

        So, the children can arrive at a new school mid-year with no record of the past five months. Or parents can pay $2,600 for records that will include their grades and a benign notice that they have withdrawn. “We paid up,” says the father whose daughter now is enrolled in a public school.

Pick and choose

        John Concannon, general counsel for Cincinnati Public Schools, says that in his experience, St. Ursula's reaction is not much different from any other private school. “They can pick and choose.”

        Marianne Lang, public relations director for St. Ursula, says: “We have no tolerance for this kind of conduct. It's important to maintain our high standards.”

        Susan Marrs, principal of Seven Hills Upper School, has no specific comment on the girls at St. Ursula, but says succinctly: “Kids make mistakes. If a kid is caught using alcohol — not selling, using — he'll be punished. But it's doubtful the student would be expelled on a first offense.”

        Some schools even like the idea that they might have spotted a problem early, one that they might, you know, try to solve. But a private school has every right to see a problem and give it the heave ho, right into the lap of the public schools.

        “We have no way of tracking these students,” Ms. Lang says. “We would suppose they would enroll in other schools. We want them to do well.”

        Somewhere else.

       E-mail Laura at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393.

       



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