The number of allegations of sexual assault and harassment made on social media this summer by Montgomery County Public Schools students now stands at more than 350, according to school district officials.
In June, Bethesda Beat first reported that students across the county had taken to social media to share of allegations of sexual harassment and assault. Most of the allegations were made on Instagram and involved current and former students, but some also involved staff members.
Allegations ranged in severity from a boy’s persistence in asking for nude photographs to rape.
Since then, MCPS has investigated more than 350 allegations made on social media platforms, Ed Clarke, director of the MCPS Department of School Safety and Security, said during a meeting with students on Tuesday night. The meeting was put together by student leadership organizations and was the first public event MCPS has held specifically to address the allegations.
About 200 students attended the meeting, held via Zoom, according to event organizers, and the meeting was streamed live on the MCPS website.
During the meeting, Greg Edmundson, MCPS director of student welfare and compliance, said nearly all of the alleged incidents happened off school property and most of the social media posts did not include the names of alleged victims or offenders, which has complicated investigations.
Clarke said that when an alleged victim or assaulter was identified, the information was shared with police. He did not say how many of the allegations were reported to police, and a county police spokesperson declined to comment.
“It’s very helpful for us moving forward that when students feel the timing’s right for them to come forward that they go to a trusted adult,” Clarke said. “We can do a better job with more information.”
Some of the claims were found to be untrue, Edmundson said.
“When you post on social media, we really want you to have an understanding we will look into every single situation that presents itself to us,” Edmundson said. “This isn’t a topic or content to joke around with. This isn’t content to just try to be playful or even mean to somebody.”
He did not say how many of the allegations were determined to be fake.
In response to the social media allegations this summer, all students in sixth through 12th grade will complete an online training “designed to educate students on recognizing and reporting incidents of sexual assault and harassment,” according to MCPS staff members. Schools will also collect data to help administrators assess school culture and all students, beginning in pre-kindergarten, will receive “enhanced” personal body safety lessons.
During those lessons, tailored for each grade, students will learn about “inappropriate touching,” and how to identify and report inappropriate behavior.
Superintendent Jack Smith did not attend Tuesday night’s event but provided recorded remarks. He said “our entire community shares the responsibility in creating a culture of respect and maintaining a safe and welcoming learning environment” for students.
Deputy Superintendent Monifa McKnight said the allegations made on social media were “heartbreaking” and they “sickened me.”
She urged students to report problems to teachers, and “if for some reason” they don’t listen, to keep reaching out to adults until “something is done about it.”
“Every adult in this school system is absolutely responsible for keeping you safe and for keeping harm away from you,” McKnight said. “You’re worthy and deserving of respect.”
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org