Montgomery County school report: Hazing not widespread, but ‘we could do better’

Montgomery County Public Schools has released an external review of how extracurricular activities are supervised following last year’s hazing incident that led to Damascus High School students being charged with sexual assault.

It found no indication that hazing among students is a widespread problem in the school system, said Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Smith.

However, “we could do better,” said Smith, who laid out the report’s findings and recommendations Monday at the school system’s headquarters in Rockville, Maryland.

This report, conducted by the law firm Wilmer Hale, focused on the broader school system as a whole.

“It had three key areas,” Smith said. “Fostering a positive culture, implementing robust supervision practices, and ensuring timely reporting of incidents and appropriate responses on the part of the school system.”

The report found that in a lot of cases, students were familiar with bullying but not so much with hazing. In the future, students, coaches and other after-school program leaders will get further training that focuses on hazing.

“Adults need to be vigilant and really pay attention, and when students are trying to tell something to adults, adults need to listen closely and seek to understand what the student’s actually trying to say,” Smith said. “… It makes all the difference if we’re all working together.”

When it comes to supervision, Smith added, “It will involve a restructuring of some of what we do after school.”

That will include both the school and school-sponsored activities, but also the policies that govern the outside groups that use school facilities, to include recreational athletic leagues and even faith-based groups that rent space from the county.

“We have to give them some latitude,” Smith said about high school students, “but we also have to be there in the moment so that we intervene, and we teach, and we make sure things don’t happen.”

The external review cost the county about $250,000. Some of the recommendations can be implemented quickly, Smith said, but other things will need to be budgeted for in the next fiscal year.

Smith said he will be unveiling his budget for the next school year on Dec. 18.

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