Immigration, safety worry Md. parents, residents after school rape

WASHINGTON — Rockville High School parents and residents in Maryland remain angry and unsatisfied after meeting with school officials and Montgomery County police Tuesday night, several days after the rape of a 14-year-old girl in a school bathroom.

The meeting was closed to media, but afterward, those who attended shared their concerns with reporters. On Tuesday evening, the school system posted a video the meeting on its YouTube channel.

“I’m not satisfied,” said Elizabeth Plum, who doesn’t have a child in the school. She said that while the session was “pretty sedate,” she took issue with some of the answers from school officials.

“They were asked specifically whether they would admit students with criminal records and the answer is ‘yes.’ And would they be monitored? The answer is well, if they had a probation officer, maybe, or if they had an ankle bracelet, maybe,” she said.

“So in other words, the school apparently doesn’t take any responsibility, even if they know the student has a criminal record.”

Earlier Tuesday, Montgomery County Public School superintendent Jack Smith said the two student suspects — 18-year-old Henry Sanchez-Milian and 17-year-old Jose Montano — had no criminal records and hadn’t been previously suspended from the school.

But Sanchez-Milian had entered the country illegally through Mexico, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He had been questioned by Border Patrol in Texas last year. Montano’s status has not been revealed because he is a minor.

Officials highlighted school security during Tuesday night’s meeting, Plum said, which included a five-person security team and around 105 cameras. But she said she learned those cameras were not monitored on a live basis. Camera footage, however, was reviewed after the rape was reported.

“Obviously, that doesn’t help the child who was raped,” she said.

The following items regarding security were discussed in the meeting:

  • There are five full-time security staff members at Rockville High School
  • Next year, Rockville High School will get another full-time security assistant (because of increased enrollment next year)
  • Four members of the administrative team: Principal and three assistant principals
  • There are 105 cameras in the building
  • Cameras are not monitored in “real time,” but the footage is reviewed in investigations
  • Prior to the rape, staff was looking at increasing number of cameras
  • Rockville High School has a closed-campus at lunch and students can have lunch anywhere in the building.
  • Principal Billie-Jean Bensen urging more monitoring during lunch
  • Bensen is asking teachers to check attendance during class as well as at the start
  • There is a “five-minute rule.” The principal is asking teachers to check on bathroom passes if students gone more than five minutes.
  • Principal asking attendance discrepancies to be called into the main office—the entire team, not just the principal

A parent who attended the meeting has a child who will attend the school next year. She was also worried about school safety, calling for stricter monitoring of students who may have entered the country illegally or were considerably older than their peers.

The superintendent said earlier that students’ immigration statuses are not known to schools and that information was not collected.

Still, Debbie, who refused to give her last name, said, “I think it’s pretty important to know the whole demographics of your child’s community.”

“I think we all have a right to know who’s living among us, who our kids are spending 40 hours a week with every day,” she added.

A small group of people stood across the school, protesting during the meeting. Their concern for school safety was anchored by their views on immigration.

Sam Fenati, a Montgomery County resident who doesn’t have a child in the school, but will have grandchildren in the school system said, “This little girl’s rape is the fruition of liberal policy in this county.”

He wants to see local politicians cooperate with ICE more by turning over people who have entered the country illegally. He described himself as a “second-generation American,” saying that his relatives came from Italy.

“I’m not against immigrants,” he said. “But we came in legally.”

Montgomery County officials said, earlier this week, that they would cooperate fully with ICE concerning this case. However, ICE lists the county among jurisdictions nationwide that limit cooperation with the agency.

Amy Waychoff, who has a student currently in the county school system and two who have graduated, said, “I think if this was happening at one of my daughters’ schools, I would take them out and start home-schooling them.”

She held signs that read “Safety not Sanctuary” and “Keep Maryland Safe,” adding: “We don’t have to have a welcome mat in Maryland and Montgomery County for everybody.”

Watch the full meeting video below:

WTOP’s Michelle Basch and Kate Ryan contributed to this report. 

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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