Keep Politics Out of Tragedy

The Rockville High School community was rattled in mid-March by the unthinkable; a 14-year old freshman was allegedly grabbed from a hallway and raped by two older students in a secluded bathroom. The incident easily can be described as too horrific for words. However, that hasn’t stopped the deluge of public opinion on the matter from every corner of the country.

Once it was revealed that the perpetrators were two recent immigrants from Central America, buzz across Twitter and Facebook snowballed into condemnation of the act from the White House. After denouncing the act, it didn’t take long for the Trump administration to capitalize on it. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer stated, “I think part of the reason the president has made illegal immigration and crackdown such a big deal is because of tragedies like this.” And just like that, suspicious ties to Russia and stymied efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare were put on the back burner.

With immigration once again taking center stage at a national press briefing, news outlets—and anyone with an online profile—followed suit, scrambling to surmise the legal status and immigration intentions of the accused.

Rather than using this event as a springboard to put immigration reform, and building “the wall,” at the center of the story, MCPS should focus on examining its policies to prevent such a travesty from occurring again. The school district is taking such steps, recently announcing that a comprehensive review of security at every high school in the county will be conducted. However, the notion that schools should change policy to ban illegals from receiving an education is not only unfair, it is against the law. The 1982 Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe ruled that all states offer a free public education to students regardless of immigration status. Superintendent Jack Smith simply was keeping with U.S. Supreme Court precedent by allowing these students to receive an education regardless of their immigration status, yet countless people inside and outside of Montgomery County have threatened Smith and even his family after the incident.

Thousands of immigrants— whether legal or illegal—enter our country every year, often fleeing war, crime, and poverty in their native lands in search for a better life. The vast majority of these people are law-abiding citizens who only want the best for themselves and their families. It is unfair to attack an entire population for the alleged actions of the two accused.

Controversy also has sparked over the ages of the accused perpetrators, who are 17- and 18-years old and have both been charged as adults. Large numbers of parents, many of whom do not even have children attending any MCPS school, have been decrying the policy of allowing students of these ages to enroll as freshman and sit in class with 14- year olds. MCPS policies that permit this are in full accordance with Maryland law.

Rape is, undeniably, a terrible tragedy that poisons our society. However, the answer to this awful event is not to continue adding hateful, xenophobic comments to the discussion. Such over-reactions further divide us when the community should be, instead, seeking meaningful solutions so this heinous act does not repeat itself. The Warrior agrees with Superintendent Jack Smith that the focus should be on educating students—those who have not reached the age of legal maturity—regardless of their background.