School officials in suburban Maryland will hire an outside firm to help in an investigation of reporting practices and supervision issues following a sexual assault case involving football players who allegedly attacked four of their teammates with a broomstick at Damascus High School.
The case, which has roiled the nationally regarded school system, has raised questions about the culture of sports teams and the procedures used by coaches and administrators to report sexual assaults at school.
Police initially charged six members of the junior-varsity football team as juveniles with rape, attempted rape or both. One case was quickly dropped. Another stayed in juvenile court. Cases against four of the boys were moved to adult court in late November before court hearings moved them back to juvenile court this year.
In Maryland, first-degree rape charges cover nonconsensual acts that involve the use of an object.
The letter from Smith, sent Sunday evening, echoed statements he has made in news briefings in recent months but offered details that were new to some parents.
Smith said the state’s attorney’s office is investigating allegations of “a culture of assaultive behavior, bullying or hazing at Damascus High School.” As part of the inquiry, he said, records related to such behavior by student athletes, dating to 2013, were subpoenaed.
The superintendent said the school system has launched its own examination of the supervision of students on the day of the incident. “This investigation is under way, and we expect it to conclude in the coming weeks,” Smith said.
The school system’s internal review is being expanded to examine any problems in reporting incidents on Oct. 31, along with broader issues of supervision in sports and extracurricular activities at Damascus High.
“We will seek expert support from an external firm, and we will make sure to continue to collaborate closely with the State’s Attorney’s Office and the Montgomery County Police Department,” Smith said.
Problems in the handling of the incident were detailed in a Washington Post story published March 29. Damascus High officials waited more than 12 hours to tell police about credible allegations of a locker room sexual assault and launched their own inquiry into what happened, according to interviews and documents.
Smith did not address those issues directly in the letter or at a news briefing Monday, but spoke more generally about follow-up at Damascus.
“Certainly our hearts and thoughts are with all of the students at Damascus and the students who reported the victimization, and that’s an issue that we take very seriously,” he said Monday.
His letter also pointed to school system efforts to step up supervision of students involved in sports and other school activities, with coaches and activity sponsors now required to submit formal supervision plans.
Shortly after the Damascus incident, Smith asked coaches and activity sponsors to meet with students before each season to discuss expectations about “hazing, bullying and assaultive behavior and what role students should play in preventing and reporting this behavior.”
Alaina Dahlin, a Damascus parent who has been a PTA leader in the area, said she was encouraged to hear about the heavy involvement of the state’s attorney’s office and its examination of any problems from years ago.
“It eases my mind that they are really looking in depth,” she said.
Dahlin said it is clear that there were supervision issues in the locker room on the day of the alleged assaults and that people in Damascus want to know more about what any fallout might be for the school or its personnel. “That’s what we’re all waiting to hear,” she said.
School officials said Monday that investigations are continuing and that no action has been taken against Damascus officials or employees in connection with the Oct. 31 incident.