Montgomery County police and school district officials are providing few new details about investigations into students’ allegations of sexual assault and harassment.
In June, Bethesda Beat reported that hundreds of current and former MCPS students had come forward to share allegations of sexual assault and harassment on social media.
The allegations ranged from boys’ persistence in asking for dates or nude photos to rape.
Most of the allegations were made by unnamed female students. However, the allegations often accuse specific people, by name, and list where they went to school. In some cases, the allegations included photos of the boys.
Capt. Tom Jordan, a spokesman for the Montgomery County Police Department, wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat on Monday that the investigation is continuing. He declined to answer questions about whether detectives had interviewed any of the alleged assaulters or victims.
“Sex assault cases are sensitive and confidential in nature so releasing any information that might compromise each investigation or deter victims from coming forward simply cannot be done,” Jordan wrote.
Asked for an update early this week about the district’s investigation and how many allegations it is reviewing, a spokesperson said the topic would be addressed during a news conference on Wednesday.
During the news conference, MCPS Deputy Superintendent Monifa McKnight read an excerpt from a message sent to community members on July 1 about the allegations. The passage highlighted work MCPS has done to “strengthen abuse prevention efforts, enhance reporting protocols and encourage greater cultural competency.”
She reiterated that MCPS is “absolutely enraged and saddened” by the allegations.
Greg Edmundson, director of the MCPS Student Welfare and Compliance Unit, said at the news conference that the school district treats every allegation as “viable” and determines whether it classifies as a Title IX violation, criminal case or violation of the student code of conduct. It is then referred to the appropriate authority for review, he said.
MCPS did not say how many allegations it has received.
On the day Bethesda Beat reported the allegations, MCPS released a community message that said school officials are “deeply troubled” and assured parents that “all allegations involving our schools and/or students that come to our attention will be investigated.”
The message said MCPS is “committed to a fair process where all students involved will be provided an opportunity to address the allegations” and urged people to avoid “public shaming or bullying.”
A follow-up message sent July 1 said MCPS directed its Title IX coordinator to lead a process to “ensure a thorough investigation into each viable report” and that it would take a “deep look into the culture that exists in our schools.”
The message did not elaborate on either process.
Asked on Wednesday for more information about the review of school culture, Smith said MCPS has been “looking at culture for several years” by addressing implicit bias and an initiative called BeWell365 that emphasizes student well-being.
McKnight said MCPS will conduct an “anti-racist system audit” of the entire district, examining staff diversity, school culture, curriculum and community relations.
“That’s an opportunity to evaluate if that culture is a healthy one as it relates to the well-being of students,” McKnight said. “… That’s inclusive as part of the anti-racist system audit we’re doing in MCPS.”
During a school board meeting on Tuesday, McKnight discussed the audit and said MCPS has “identified some gaps” and would “dive deeper to understand why these gaps exist.”
The review and its findings will help MCPS be more intentional in establishing policies, procedures and programs about race and harassment, McKnight said.
“The hurt and harm that occurs every time one of these incidents occurs, it impacts our entire community,” she said. “That’s why we have to own it.”
Findings of the audit will be presented to the school board in October.
Staff writer Daniel Schere contributed to this story.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at email@example.com