Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) moved Thursday to smooth the sharp edges from his criticism of Montgomery County officials earlier this week after two undocumented immigrants were charged with raping a 14-year-old at Rockville High School.
Hogan demanded Tuesday that the county “fully cooperate” with the investigation, implying that Montgomery’s policy of limiting communication with federal immigration authorities could interfere with the case. The comment angered county officials, who said their policy requires full assistance in any serious criminal investigation. They accused Hogan of exploiting public fears of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants.
Hogan took a more conciliatory tone Thursday morning, when he came to the county with U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to read a Dr. Seuss book at Bethesda’s Carderock Springs Elementary.
“We kind of want to let everybody do their jobs,” Hogan told reporters when asked about the case. “I think the school system is taking it seriously, the police are taking it seriously, and there’s obviously a federal component to it that we’ve got to pay attention to.”
Hogan, who also complained Monday that school officials were ignoring his administration’s requests for information about the case, met privately with Montgomery Schools Superintendent Jack Smith before his school visit. Hogan offered no details to reporters but said lines of communication are open.
“We did have a conversation a little earlier, and I asked for the continuing discussion,” he said. “We don’t have all the information. It is an ongoing investigation.”
It was DeVos’s first visit to a traditional public school since she was met and briefly blocked by protesters last month outside of Jefferson Middle School Academy in the District.
On Thursday, several hundred sign-wielding demonstrators lined up across the street from the school to express a variety of viewpoints. Many were divided along school-choice lines, either supporting or decrying Hogan and DeVos for their support of vouchers and charter schools.
Meghan Skelton, a Carderock parent, lauded the diversity of the school system and called DeVos’s and Hogan’s focus on school choice a threat to public education.
“We really believe in this school and the things they do,” Skelton, 46, said. “I don’t want this administration working against the core mission of these schools.”
Others came to talk about the rape allegations and what they see as the negative impact of undocumented immigrants on Montgomery County’s public school system.
“We’ve been incredibly welcoming and kind, and this is what we get,” said Anne Moore, 47, the mother of a Carderock fourth grader.
Montgomery schools spokesman Derek Turner told reporters that police have tightened security at Rockville High because school officials have been deluged with hundreds of “hate-filled, racist and xenophobic” phone calls, including threats “saying they’re going to shoot up the illegals in our school.”
Hogan condemned the threats. “We can’t condone any kind of hate speech like that,” he said.
In a statement, DeVos said: “As a mother of two daughters and grandmother of four young girls, my heart aches for the young woman and her family at the center of this terrible crime. We all have a common responsibility to ensure every student has access to a safe and nurturing learning environment.”
An 18-year-old from Guatemala and a 17-year-old from El Salvador were charged in the alleged rape. Both were students at Rockville High.
DeVos and Hogan joined about 60 second-graders in the Carderock Springs library to read “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” in honor of National Reading Month.
Just before the event, DeVos asked students whether they knew “what special month it is now.”
“March Madness,” came the answer.
Ovetta Wiggins and Emma Brown contributed to this report.