by Aspen Weinberg ‘25
In November, a jury awarded a judgment of $4 million in damages in a sexual assault case to a former students at Gaithersburg High School. According to Fox News, court documents detail that the assault occurred in 2018 when the student was a freshman on the wrestling team. The unnamed student filed the lawsuit in 2020.
The ruling came less than two months after MCPS paid $9.7 million to settle the legal dispute related to a criminal complaint against a number of football players at Damascus High School who were allegedly involved in a “brooming” sexual assault incident in the school locker room, also in 2018. The lawsuit was brought against the MCPS Board of Education, former Damascus High School principal Casey Crouse, former football coaches Vincent Colbert and Eric Wallich, and former athletic director Joseph Doody.
After the initial incident in 2018, Janis Zink Sartucci from the Parents Coalition of Montgomery County stated, “We see a repeat of the same pattern over and over” in response to the recurring “trend” of sexual assaults in school locker rooms. The suits alleged that the school board and employees at Damascus knew about the longstanding tradition of sexual assault in the football program. Civil rights attorney Billy Murphy Jr. represented three of the four plaintiffs in Judge Peter Messite’s court. According to court documents, sophomores on the Damascus JV football team were known by staff and faculty at Damascus for “brooming” freshmen players on the team as an “initiation” to the program. Disciplinary actions towards the students are confidential due to the criminal charges being brought in the juvenile court system.
According to WUSA9 news, the school district issued a statement last September that, “The district fully understands the importance of maintaining a safe and respectful environment in all of our school spaces.” Following the incident at Damascus in 2018, MCPS implemented extra security measures in locker rooms and have since mandated additional sexual assault and harrassment trainings for coaches and athletic trainers of students and school sports teams at many high schools across the county.