by Sydney Henry ’20
Damascus Principal Casey Crouse stepped down after controversy that she waited to report a sexual assault incident to the authorities. MCPS also placed the JV Coach, Vincent Colbert, and the school’s athletic director, Joe Doody, on administrative leave until further notice. The county is reviewing the status of the football program at Damascus.
Controversy about the highly publicized sexual assault incident at Damascus reignited after an March 29 article in The Washington Post reported 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, Crouse was notified by a member of the athletic staff that a father had called to report that his son had been assaulted by other players on the team. Crouse discussed the situation among other faculty members in a group text message. The school administration began their own investigation after interviewing the victims and suspects.
According to the reporting by The Washington Post, Crouse told the school resource officer that she would be looking into an incident, but she did not detail or disclose any part of the incident to him. It was not until new information had emerged that the Montgomery County Special Victims Division took control of the case the day following the attack. As of now, Crouse has been moved to an “administrator on special assignment” position in the MCPS Office of Human Resources and Development.
MCPS has altered its policies for sports and other after-school activities in response to the incident that occurred at Damascus on October 31 when five members of the JV football team sexually assaulted four other players on the team 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 ten other football players watched through the window. 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 Superintendent Jack Smith, stating that “[he could not] share any additional information at this time.” Two days after the initial statement from MCPS, a four-minute anti-bullying video was released to students. In the video, 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 have always applied to athletic teams in all high schools. The punishment for hazing begins with a minimum of “immediate dismissal from a team,” according to MCPS Student-Parent Athletic Participation Information. However, changes have been made to these policies after what occurred at Damascus. According to the Sherwood Athletic Director Jason Woodward, the staff has “re-evaluated 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 “MCPS School-Sponsored After-School Activities Plan” will be used for all after-school activities and sports. It 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 Damascus incident, “more emphasis has been put on [hazing] right now, but we always put emphasis on it even before,” explained Woodward.