Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Smith announced Wednesday evening that school district officials will “take a deep look into the culture that exists in our schools” after hundreds of social media posts were made last week detailing students’ experiences with sexual assault and harassment.
In his message, Smith also said he has directed the school district’s Title IX coordinator to lead a process involving all offices in the school district to “ensure a thorough investigation is conducted into each viable report, and to take the necessary steps in response to what we find.”
Smith did not elaborate about either process.
“We are enraged and saddened by these allegations,” Smith wrote. “We recognize the courage it takes to publicly share painful and personal experiences of harassment, assault, bias and bullying. MCPS is actively looking into the allegations to address them as quickly as possible.”
Smith’s message comes five days after Bethesda Beat first reported a flood of posts made by students on social media alleging they had been the victims of sexual assault or harassment by their peers or teachers.
Hundreds of posts have been made on Instagram pages compiling anonymous submissions. More than a dozen schools have been named.
The people who submit allegations are not disclosed, but boys who are accused are often named, and their pictures are sometimes posted.
The allegations cover a range of issues from soliciting and sharing girls’ nude photos to rape.
Police are also investigating the claims.
During Monday’s school board meeting, President Shebra Evans spoke on behalf of all board members, also saying they are “enraged and saddened” by the allegations.
Smith’s message on Wednesday highlights initiatives the school district has taken up in recent years to combat sexual assault, child abuse and bias, like mandating staff members taking training on the topics.
Smith said in the statement that he understands that some families might not be comfortable reporting incidents to school administrators or the police.
He encouraged those families to contact the Safe Schools Maryland Tip Line, call the county’s Victim Assistance and Sexual Assault Program or fill out the school district’s bullying, harassment and intimidation reporting form.
The school district has set up a website, where it says it will post updates as they are available.
On Friday, after Bethesda Beat contacted the school system for a comment on the initial story shortly before it was published, the district released a statement by Smith. In it, he provided the same resources for students to report assaults, and said “MCPS is committed to a fair process where all students involved will be provided an opportunity to address the allegations.”
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at email@example.com