Father of Damascus High JV Football Player Says MCPS Not Transparent Enough as Investigation into Alleged Hazing Incident Continues

Father of Damascus High JV Football Player Says MCPS Not Transparent Enough as Investigation into Alleged Hazing Incident Continues

Superintendent Smith says ‘social media justice’ causing Damascus community distress

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MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith speaks during a monthly press conference Monday morning in Rockville.

Caitlynn Peetz

Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Smith remains tight-lipped about an alleged hazing incident at Damascus High School that resulted in rape charges against five JV football players.

Charging the lack of new information to an ongoing police investigation, Smith during a monthly press conference on Monday condemned social media’s impact on the Damascus community since the allegations were made public in early November, saying people have spread rumors and targeted the community as a whole, despite “the majority of the 1,300 students” not being involved.

“This is an allegation of an event,” Smith told the press. “… Frankly, I’ll be blunt, I’m tired of social media justice, when people declare they know based on what they read on social media or a snippet of something.”

The alleged incident occurred on Halloween, and support professionals have been provided for Damascus students and families since that time, Smith said.

Police reports say the five accused football players assaulted four fellow athletes with a broomstick. School officials have said varsity football players were not involved in the incident.

The widespread discussions of the incident and rumors about the culture at the school, considered a football powerhouse, have caused distress not only for the students involved, but for the entire Damascus community, Smith said.

However, a parent of a JV football player who attended the Monday meeting told the press afterward he believes MCPS administration, specifically Principal Casey Crouse, has contributed to the distress Smith described.

The parent, who declined to provide his name for fear of retaliation against his son, said Crouse gathered the JV football players following the arrests and told them, “It’s all your fault.”

Crouse could not immediately be reached for comment Monday afternoon.

“It was hard because when you’re coming home, hearing from your kid that the principal told them they’re all guilty, we’re trying to figure out, ‘Well, are you?’ ” the parent said. “So we try to figure out where they were and … then we get a subpoena a couple days later. You’re worried for the whole JV team.”

He told Smith during the conference parents of football players have felt left in the dark and don’t know how to cope with the situation or address it with their children because they haven’t received much information from MCPS.

Smith did not respond publicly.

The parent told the media that, according to his son, there is typically a staff member in an office near the locker room while students are utilizing the locker room, but there wasn’t anybody there at the time of the alleged rapes.

He said he believes if someone was assigned to supervise the students, but that person wasn’t doing his or her job, that person also should be suspended or fired.

Smith on Monday said there have been “some actions with adults” involved with the team, but did not clarify if it was disciplinary action, saying it is a “personnel issue.”

When the police investigation is completed, Smith said, the school will launch its own investigation into supervision of the team and will “respond appropriately” if any culpability is discovered.

When asked about allegations of a “tradition” of hazing at the school , Smith said school officials “don’t know the answer to that,” but added that hazing has been a countrywide issue for centuries.

Smith added coaches and other extracurricular activity supervisors have been advised to “have conversations” with students each season about how to identify, report and stop hazing.

“We’re going to have a very systematic, methodical, sustainable way of saying to kids, ‘Don’t do this. You can really hurt someone, you can ruin your own life and you can feel guilty about what you have allowed to happen to your friends because you didn’t step up and say stop,’ ” Smith said.

Several journalists reported a “media blackout” during Friday night’s football game at the school, saying Damascus officials did not allow them into the press box and they had to be escorted across the field to take photos, which is not the norm.

Greg Swatek, a reporter for the Frederick News-Post, tweeted the media was only allowed to stand between the goal line and 30-yard line for the entirety of the game, but was not given a reason why.

Smith said he was not aware of the restrictions at Friday’s football game and did not address concerns further at Monday’s press conference.

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