ROCKVILLE, Md. — A local attorney says school officials failed to inform Rockville High’s parent community of violent incidents weeks before an alleged brutal rape occurred at the school.
Rene Sandler, the lawyer for the family of a Rockville High student, said her client, a 17-year-old girl, was “jumped” and beaten in the main lobby of the high school the morning of March 7, and that parents, other than the parents of the victim, were not informed.
Sandler showed WTOP’s Kate Ryan a video of the incident, which Sandler said left her client with severe head injuries.
“She’s grabbed by her hair; she’s pulled to the ground; she’s being beaten to her head with fists, and then the final sort of coup de grace is three kicks directly to her head — and then she’s left on the ground,” said Sandler, describing the attack.
She said the attack, which lasted roughly 30 seconds, was finally broken up by a staff member who raced down a hallway, past students who gathered to watch — and to record the incident on their cellphones. “There are no security officers around,” Sandler said.
At a PTSA meeting in the wake of the reported rape of a student at Rockville High, Principal Billie Jean Bensen told parents the school has five security staff members and the Montgomery County Police Department’s student resource officer, along with 105 cameras in the school.
Sandler said it appears that her client was set up for the attack.
“My client has never seen her attacker before — didn’t know her, doesn’t know her,” Sandler said.
Sandler said some social media messages from girls the victim does know suggest that the attack may have been premeditated.
It was especially disturbing, Sandler said, that in the video, students cheer on the assailant, and one male voice is heard saying “Get out of my way!” – evidently so that he can get a better view.
Sandler said the attack on her client came just one day after another fight involving two girls at the school. The parent community wasn’t informed about that incident, either, Sandler said. In a release Sandler’s office prepared, the lawyer said “school officials were not forthright about ongoing safety issues” at the school.
On March 16, there was a report of a brutal rape by two male students who allegedly attacked a 14-year-old freshman, dragging her into a boy’s bathroom where the pair sexually assaulted her.
Sandler said her client, a senior, was directed to fill out an account of the incident while she was at the nurse’s office. Sandler said police were not called at the time of the attack.
Montgomery County schools have a memorandum of understanding with the Montgomery County police under which the schools are directed to call police when a crime is committed. Sandler said that’s not optional; it’s mandated. WTOP has contacted the school to ask when and whether police were notified of the March 7 attack by the school system.
Montgomery County police officer Rick Goodale said police records show it was the parents who first reported the incident to police. Goodale says the parents contacted the Rockville City police.
On March 9, Rockville school officials informed the student resource officer of the attack, and he followed up that same day, reviewing the video, which had popped up on several social media sites. It is not clear whether the officer was at the school the day the incident occurred or on March 9.
Goodale said the SRO recommended that the 15-year-old girl seen hitting Sandler’s client should be charged with second-degree assault. Goodale says because she is a juvenile, the assailant’s case was referred to juvenile court.
The school system “takes every incident very seriously, especially when it involves altercations and attacks between students,” said Montgomery County schools spokesman Derek Turner. While they didn’t inform the parent community in the March 7 case, he said, “we did work with the police department to take appropriate steps.”
“MCPS doesn’t inform the community after every altercation,” Turner said, “but what we do is take steps to address the problem. That’s why we engaged in disciplinary action.”
He said Bensen has also sent a note to the community about posting such incidents on social media, saying “It’s inappropriate, and it does a disservice to both the students and the community.”
He added, “We want to keep parents as informed as possible with information that is pertinent to their child’s education. So we will review our practices and procedures and take the appropriate steps.”