Hundreds of parents converged on Rockville High School Tuesday night seeking assurances about student safety in their suburban Maryland school system after a 14-year-old girl was allegedly raped by two classmates, during school hours, in a boys’ bathroom.
Montgomery County school officials discussed security measures at the high school amid a wave of anger and frustration across the 159,000-student school system, Maryland’s largest, about the brutal attack last week on a freshman girl.
The meeting, which drew parents and community members from far beyond Rockville High, was closed to reporters. School officials posted a recording of the session on Wednesday for the public to hear.
As parents and others exited Tuesday night, many said they were not satisfied with the answers they got from school officials.
“I thought it was just a lot of political speak,” said Rob Sisco, a parent of three school system graduates who has grandchildren who may attend Rockville High. “I felt they really weren’t addressing the issue, and the crime that happened.”
Sisco, interviewed across the street from the school, said he would have liked more conversation about how the school system places undocumented students - as the two suspects were - in schools and follows their adjustment process.
Some parents complained about the security measures school officials described at the meeting. The school has 105 surveillance cameras, but most are not monitored in real time and are used primarily to view incidents after the fact, officials said. The school, with about 1,300 students, has five non-police security staff and one school resource officer.
“We’re just appalled that this happened to a girl in the public school system,” said Jayne Quilligan, a resident of Rockville who does not have children in the school but said her nieces are of similar age. “Where were the normal things you have in a hallway, like hall monitors?”
Others focused on the students who were arrested in the attack: Jose O. Montano, 17, and Henry Sanchez-Milian, 18, undocumented immigrants who started at Rockville High this school year. Police have said they have no evidence the suspects are associated with gangs and that they have no past criminal offenses in the county.
“It sounds like they’re not looking at the real problem,” said Sheldon Sacks, a parent of two Rockville High graduates. “You don’t really know how many illegal immigrants are in school. If you have a lot of people who are not equipped to be in school, they should have a special school and then they would have individuals the same age. When you have kids who don’t know English and you put them in with kids who are trying to learn other things, you’re degrading the school system.”
Montgomery schools Superintendent Jack Smith said at a news conference earlier in the evening Tuesday that the school system accepts all children who come to its doors, in keeping with U.S. Supreme Court precedent.
He said other Maryland school systems, and all, or virtually all, public school districts nationally take the same approach.
After the meeting at Rockville High, a string of parents complained that Smith had at one point referred to the brutal rape as “an event.”
“It was a tragedy, not an event,” one parent said as he walked out, echoing several others.
Schools spokesman Derek Turner said the schools chief “chose the wrong word, and it does not convey how he feels about the tragedy.”
School officials estimated that 600 to 700 people attended the meeting, which was planned as a PTSA meeting. They said PTSA leaders decided to close the gathering to reporters. Security was so tight that reporters were barred from the school’s parking lot and directed to stand on the other side of Baltimore Road.
Across the street from the school, a couple dozen people turned out to demonstrate about the case. Some voiced concerns about undocumented immigrants, holding signs with slogans like, “Safety not sanctuary!”