by Sydney Henry ’20
MCPS has altered its policies for sports and after-schools activities in response to the highly publicized sexual assault incident that occurred at Damascus High School on October 31, 2018. When five members of the Damascus JV football team sexually assaulted four other players with a broom. The attack took place in the team’s locker room, while no adults were supervising, and news accounts report that as many as 10 other players watched through the window. As of April, all five of the boys accused of sexual assault have had their cases moved back to the juvenile court.
MCPS’ first public action after the incident was to issue a statement from the Superintendent, Dr. Jack Smith, stating that “[he could not] share any additional information at this time”. Information was gradually released to the public about the details of the incident and who was involved, at the time not releasing the names of any students, but it was regarded as a hazing and sexual assault situation. Two days after the initial statement from MCPS, a four-minute anti-bullying video was released to students in response to the alleged sexual assaults.
In the video Dr. Smith, standing alongside MCPS Athletic Director Jeffrey Sullivan and MCPS Associate Superintendent Jonathan Brice, states that “Bullying, harassment, hazing, verbal and physical abuse, whether in classrooms, hallways and sports, or in any extracurricular activity, will not be tolerated in our schools.”
MCPS policies surrounding hazing and bullying of any form existed much before the unfortunate incident occurred at Damascus, and have always applied to athletic teams at all Montgomery County high school. At Sherwood specifically, the punishment for hazing of any sort begins with a minimum of “immediate dismissal from a team,” according to MCPS Student-Parent Athletic Participation Information.
However, some changes have been made to these policies after what occurred. According to the Sherwood Athletic Director Jason Woodward, the incident has helped the staff “re-evaluate processes and procedures throughout the county.” In addition to the pre-existing policies, extensions have been made to further detail what is considered “hazing” and how it is handled by MCPS. “There was a work group of athletic directors, principals, and coaches that came up with supervision plan for monitoring student athletes, clubs, and activities after school,” said Woodward. The supervision plan, titled “MCPS School-Sponsored After-School Activities Plan,” is intended to be used by all after-school activities and sports, and includes a predetermined supervision plan, details where the activity is to be located, and a “contingency plan” for if the designated adult is not there.
Along with the supervision plan, a Powerpoint presentation titled “Identifying Hazing and Promoting a Positive Culture” was presented to all MCPS student athletes to help them understand what constitutes hazing and how to report it. Since the incident, “more emphasis has been put on [hazing] right now, but we always put emphasis on it even before,” explained Woodward.
Controversy about the incident re-ignited after an March 29 article in the Washington Post investigating further into the hazing incident at Damascus. The Post found that officials at Damascus waited more than 12 hours to tell police about credible allegations of sexual assault taking place in a football locker room. During that window of time, the school’s principal, Casey Crouse, was notified by a member of the athletic staff that a father had called to report that his son had been sexually assaulted by other players on the team. Principal Crouse withheld from telling the police, but discussed the situation among other faculty members in a group text message. The school administration then launched their own investigation, and after interviewing the victims and suspects, they sent them all back to class without notifying any parents of what had occurred.
According to the Post, Damascus principal Casey Crouse told the school resource officer that she would be looking into an incident, but didn’t detail any of the incident to him. It wasn’t until new details emerged that the Montgomery County Special Victims Division took control of the case the day after the attack. MCPS is required to immediately call the Montgomery County police for any incident concerning rape or sexual assault, however Principal Crouse did not report the incident until hours after the incident had been reported to her. As of now, no statement has been released by Principal Cruise in response to the Washington Post article.