Montgomery County Public Schools on Monday sent a video to student email accounts about bullying and harassment in response to an alleged incident of hazing at Damascus High School that left five football players facing rape charges.
The five junior varsity football players were arrested last week and face multiple charges for an Oct. 31 hazing incident involving four fellow male football players that occurred after school in the boys locker room, according to authorities. Neither the names of the suspects or the alleged victims have been released by police.
As details emerge, MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith has taken to social media, first issuing a statement condemning the alleged incident and asking the public to refrain from “spreading rumors.” Then, Smith released to the public a four-minute video sent to MCPS students.
In the video posted on YouTube, Smith said the allegations against Damascus High School students prompted school officials to reach out to all students and have a “hard conversation” about “issues facing our school.”
“Bullying, harassment, hazing, verbal and physical abuse, whether in classrooms, hallways, sports or any extracurricular activity will not be tolerated in our schools,” Smith says in the video as he, MCPS Athletic Director Jeffrey Sullivan and MCPS Associate Superintendent Jonathan Brice stand together in a school hallway. “Students who engage in this behavior will receive serious consequences and may well be referred to law enforcement.”
Sullivan also condemns acts of hazing, bullying and harassment and says students who contribute to such behaviors “will not be welcome on our courts or fields.”
Brice outlines how to report and combat harassment, urging students with concerns to tell a “trusted adult” or go to the school’s website and explore resources made available by MCPS.
In closing, Smith asked students to reach out to Damascus High School students with words of encouragement and support, and Brice again asked viewers to avoid spreading “hurtful rumors.”
“This is a difficult time for your fellow students at Damascus High School, for the staff members and for their families,” Smith said. “I’m asking that our community show them the caring and compassion our county is known for.”
The message comes amid a heightened attention to bullying and harassment in MCPS schools.
In late October, the Montgomery County Council hosted its annual Youth Town Hall, during which much of the conversation focused on what students who attended described as a negative school environment tainted with instances of racial slurs, discrimination, hate speech and bullying.
Students accused MCPS staff of not taking action when bullying is reported, but the council advised students to continue to speak out until someone listens.