Credit: File photo via MCPS

In response to a thorough review of policies after rapes at Damascus High School last fall, Montgomery County Public Schools plans to launch several initiatives to ensure students’ safety during after school activities.

During a Monday morning press conference, MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith outlined some key findings from the external review of the rapes, labeled by some as a “hazing.”

Over the next year, MCPS plans to establish a partnership with the National Center for Sports Spectator Safety and Security to “become a national leader in best practices regarding after-school safety, security and supervision,” according to Smith.

Additionally, MCPS will propose initiatives in its fiscal year 2021 budget to expand resources for after-school security, “support character education programming for students” in extracurricular activities, review internal procedures to “clarify reporting practices for bullying and hazing,” and provide an annual report to the school board about athletics and after school programs.

“We believe these enhanced supervision strategies will strengthen our ability to keep students safe,” Smith wrote in a letter to community members. “Our goal is to create the supervision structures and positive school climates that prevent bullying, hazing and sexual assault.”

Authorities have said that on Halloween afternoon last year, four Damascus High School junior varsity football players raped some teammates in an assault that included a broomstick.

All of the attackers were originally charged as adults, but each had their cases transferred to juvenile court, where Montgomery County judges closed the proceedings to the public.

Following the assaults, MCPS launched an internal review. The findings included that the football locker room had been left unsupervised for 25 minutes, during which the attacks occurred.

Several Damascus High School staff members learned of the rapes on the night they happened, but did not notify police until the next morning.

Smith has said the staff acted in accordance with MCPS policy “based on what was known at the time.”

Among the recommendations from the external review was one encouraging MCPS to update its policies about reporting bullying, hazing and sexual assault.

“We encourage everybody in the community to review the findings,” Smith said Monday. “This is not an event. This is a body of work we … must continue to think about and work on.”

When the internal review concluded, MCPS hired Washington, D.C.-based firm WilmerHale to conduct the external review. The review cost $250,000 and did not have unanimous support from the school board.

School board member Jeanette Dixon has said she felt the external review was too costly and MCPS did not “learn anything we did not already know.”

WilmerHale’s investigation included a review of existing policies, MCPS documents and interviews with staff, students and national experts, “in order to help prevent future incidents like that at Damascus High School.”

The WilmerHale investigation did not include interviews with victims from the Damascus assaults, alleged perpetrators or their families, and the firm did not undertake a comprehensive review of unreported incidents of bullying, hazing or sexual assault.