THE PRINCIPAL of Damascus High School in Montgomery County sent a letter to parents on Nov. 1 informing them of a police investigation into allegations of hazing by members of the junior varsity football team. It soon became clear, however, that something far more horrifying — the sexual assault of four teenage boys — is alleged to have occurred. The incident raises troubling questions about school safety and what role the culture of high school athletics may have played in the attack.
Five juveniles, members of the junior varsity team, have been charged with rape in connection with an alleged attack on four teammates in the locker room of the school on Halloween. The cases are being handled in the juvenile justice system, which is closed to the public. But a copy of the police report obtained by The Post’s Dan Morse and Donna St. George detailed accounts from the victims and suspects. The assailants allegedly turned out the lights and assaulted the teenagers one by one with a broomstick. One victim said he was told the practice was a “tradition,” and another student said the practice (“brooming”) goes back many years.
Were the assaults indeed part of some long-standing ritual at Damascus? Who was supposed to be supervising the locker room? Is there cause for concern at other schools?
The system’s subsequent disclosure of a hazing incident in September at Seneca Valley High School in Germantown involving a physical assault in a locker room suggests there indeed may be systemic issues that need to be addressed. Hazing and bullying are not uncommon in youth sports, thought they often go unreported by victims who feel humiliated or embarrassed. But what is alleged to have taken place at Damascus is extreme.
Montgomery County officials said they take these matters seriously, but it has seemed — from how the incident initially was downplayed, to a schools spokesman invoking an assault at Loudoun County high school to stress to us that this is not just a “MCPS problem” — that the system may too worried about its image. In addition to the criminal investigation, there must be vigorous investigation by school officials to determine if there are systemic problems, with full disclosure to the public.