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Montgomery adds safety rules for school sporting events after football fight

(Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)

Montgomery County Public Schools announced more stringent safety protocols around athletic events Wednesday following a brawl that erupted at a football game last week.

Under the new rules, students and spectators will be required to remain in the stands during games, and reentry will not be allowed. The rules also prevent anyone from being admitted after halftime.

Students enrolled at one of the two schools competing will have to show a student ID or copy of their school schedule to attend a game. Students who don’t attend one of the two schools playing will have to be accompanied by an adult chaperone.

The new rules take effect Friday.

Schools Superintendent Monifa B. McKnight said Wednesday that the school system’s core values for athletic events are respect and sportsmanship.

“We recognize that when we see unruly, displeasurable behavior happening in our games, it’s contrary to those values,” McKnight said.

Some schools already had added extra security measures for sports events, Chief Operating Officer Brian Hull said Wednesday during a news conference. But a districtwide plan was created after a large fight at a football game between Northwest and Gaithersburg high schools Friday, Hull said. That fight led to four juveniles and a 19-year-old man being charged with assault.

Both football teams’ operations were suspended after the fight and will remain suspended until an investigation of the altercation concludes, school officials said. The investigation is expected to end Friday. Neither team will play Friday, officials said.

Gaithersburg Athletic Director William Gant has also filed assault charges against Northwest’s football coach, Travis Hawkins. Gant says Hawkins struck him during the brawl.

In Maryland, residents can file criminal charges against each other by submitting a signed statement to a court commissioner. Commissioners then determine whether there is probable cause to issue a charging document.

That is what happened in this case, according to court records. Gant submitted a complaint against Hawkins, and a court commissioner issued a criminal summons. It is not clear from court records whether Hawkins has been served with the complaint.

Prosecutors have the ability to dismiss such citizen-generated cases. In Montgomery County, the state’s attorney’s office runs a citizen complaint bureau that screens complaints to determine whether the office will prosecute the case or dismiss it, said Lauren DeMarco, a spokeswoman for the office.

A preliminary hearing is set for November, according to court records.

McKnight declined Wednesday to comment on Gant’s or Hawkins’s employment status or whether they had faced any disciplinary measures, saying that it was a personnel issue and under investigation.

“While the most recent situation brought us together today, we have and will continue to monitor the safety at all of our school events,” McKnight said.

McKnight said the guidelines were developed after meeting with principals, students, staff and police.

Under the plan, specific schools or the district as a whole can impose harsher rules — as part of a second and third tier of guidelines — if there are “additional behavioral concerns” or incidents.

In the second tier, only students from one of the schools competing and families of student-athletes could attend games. Crowd size could be limited and game times and days could be changed. Teams that engage in brawls could also be excluded from postseason competition or suspended for multiple contests, according to the guidelines.

The third tier — which is the most extreme — outlines that concession stands could be closed and only families of student-athletes and other participants (such as marching band members) could attend. In the most serious circumstances, no spectators would be permitted.

The safety protocols will be in place through the rest of the football season, officials said, but they could be extended into other athletic seasons — such as basketball — depending on the outcome.

Dan Morse contributed to this report.

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