By John Rivera
© Sun Staff
Southwestern High School was thrown into turmoil yesterday when a ninth-grader accused her classmate, an admitted practicing witch who is the daughter of a witch, of putting a hex on her.
In an incident seemingly more appropriate for a Halloween tale than for a public school, Jamie Schoonover, a 15-year-old freshman, was sent home yesterday with an official city schools discipline form, which cited the reason for the referral as "casting a spell on a student."
Earl L. Lee, principal of the Alpha Academy that comprises the school's ninth grade, has summoned the parents of both girls to his office today to sort everything out.
"This is the first case I've ever had like this in 29 years," Lee said. "This is totally new to me."
Schoonover said it's all a misunderstanding. She would never cast a spell because the principles of Wicca, a form of neo-paganism that she and her mother practice, dictate that whatever you do, good or evil, returns to you threefold.
"If she was to go ahead and cast some evil spell, she would look at it coming back to her three times over," said her mother, Colleen Harper. "I don't think that she'd want to do that."
Harper says she believes her daughter has become a target because of her religious beliefs, which are not respected by school officials. "I'm highly upset because this is a faith we practice as devoutly as a Christian would practice Christianity," she said.
But school officials say the disciplinary action taken against Schoonover is not about religion.
"The student was suspended for allegedly threatening other students, which is a violation of the student discipline code, which was established by the Baltimore City school board," said Vanessa Pyatt, a city schools spokeswoman. "The nature of the threat -- casting a spell or whatever -- that doesn't enter into it right now."
Lee said the incident began yesterday morning before school. A group of five or six students ran up to him, consoling a girl who was in tears, he said.
"The other child was crying so hard I couldn't get anything out of her," he said. "I've never seen a child so upset about anything. I thought she had been in a fight or something, the way she was hysterical and out of control.
"They said this new girl at school, who was a witch, who practices Satanism, had cast a spell on her," Lee said.
When Lee got back to his office, Schoonover was waiting for him. "I began to question her. I said, `What is this about, you casting a spell on a child?' She said, `I know how to do it, but I would never cast a spell on a child.'
"I asked her, Do you practice witchcraft?' And she said, `Yes, I practice witchcraft,' " he said. "It's just so new to us that a child openly admits she practices witchcraft. It's very bizarre to us. So, we wanted to get the parents involved, to see if they had any knowledge of it."
Not only does Harper know about it, she practices witchcraft with the girl. Harper, a transsexual who was Schoonover's father but now calls herself her mother, has been a practitioner of Wicca for a year, after dabbling in it for five or so years.
"We're not Satanists, simply because Satan is a Christian concept and we don't have anything to do with Christianity," Harper said. "Unfortunately, there are too many superstitions that have been encouraged by Hollywood's depiction of witchcraft."
Wicca is a benign religious practice closely associated with nature and nature's cycles, she said.
That confusion is at the root of the problem, Schoonover said. According to her version of events, she and friends were sitting around a tree when they noticed other girls had written their own names on rocks there. One of her friends wanted to cross out the names, so Schoonover lent the friend a white-out pen.
After crossing out the names, the friend wrote, "Life is a virtue of death."
"The girls came over and they thought I had put a spell on them," Schoonover said. "I said, `No, I didn't put a spell on anybody.' "
One of the girls began to cry.
"That girl was scared stiff," Schoonover said. "She was crying and crying. She would just get scared of me looking over at her."
Lee said he was troubled by Schoonover's admission that she practices witchcraft and by the effect that knowledge is having on some students.
"Because of the information the child was giving us, we felt it was necessary to send a letter home and to talk with her parents about how it is affecting other children in the school," he said. "The child said she practiced witchcraft, so we want additional information about this witchcraft, whether it's a true religion or not. I have to do some further research."
Originally published on Oct 21 1998