Report finds no culture of hazing at Damascus HS following reported rapes but recommends better supervision for extracurricular activities

Heather Curtis

WMAL (WASHINGTON) – A hazing scandal at Damascus High School last Halloween sent shockwaves through the community. Monday Superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools Dr. Jack Smith discussed the findings of an independent review on reporting hazing and after-school supervision at the county’s high schools.

The independent report – conducted by the law firm of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr – was done following an internal review after four Damascus High School junior varsity football players said they were raped by their teammates in the locker room after school. The incident prompted some students to say there is a culture of hazing at the school. Smith said he’s not familiar with a culture of hazing at the high school.

“That is not what the report found,” Smith added.

Smith acknowledged hazing has happened and does happen. He said they have to use the tools they have available to prevent it.

One possible issue with the report is that the law firm did not interview anyone involved in the alleged hazing incident because the lawyers said they did not want to interfere with the criminal investigation being done by the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office. Four students were charged with first-degree rape. They were originally charged as adults, but their cases were moved to juvenile court.

Other students, staff and experts were interviewed as part of the report. The external review looked at three key areas: fostering a positive culture, implementing robust supervision practices, and ensuring timely reporting of incidents and appropriate responses.

“Wilmer Hale said there’s generally a positive culture that students often don’t know when something goes from good-natured kidding to hazing, and they also don’t understand when something can move from hazing or that kind of inappropriate behavior to something really inappropriate and bad,” Smith said.

He said they need to be mindful of that as they think about how to explicitly teach students and adults how to respond to, prevent and report these incidents.

The investigation did find what’s described as a robust set of regulations when it comes to reporting hazing and bullying at MCPS. Still, it recommended the school system do a number of things over the next year to bolster its efforts to prevent hazing in the future.

The recommendations include creating a more comprehensive and collaborative approach to supervising kids doing after-school activities, including sports, and allocating more resources for security and supervision.

“We believe these enhanced supervision strategies will strengthen our ability to keep students safe,” Smith said.

Clarifying the reporting process for bullying and hazing was also recommended along with educating students about appropriate behavior.

Smith said adults need to be vigilant and pay attention and listen to kids when they report being hazed or bullied.

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