Montgomery County Public Schools superintendent: 'We all take responsibility'
ROCKVILLE, Md. - Five days after two Rockville High School students were charged with the rape of a 14-year-old classmate inside the school, Montgomery County Public Schools superintendent Dr. Jack Smith held a news conference to highlight that their students are safe and the school system will continue to serve any student who walks through their doors.
Safety of the students
The two suspects arrested in this case are 17-year-old Jose Montano and 18-year-old Henry Sanchez. They have been charged with first-degree rape and first-degree sexual offenses. According to court documents, they are accused of raping the victim inside a bathroom in the school last Thursday morning while school was in session.
Smith said there are about 160,000 students across 204 schools in the school district.
“This horrible incident shouldn't change anyone's mind that those schools are safe for our students and we work very hard and our families and our community works very hard to keep all children safe in Montgomery County,” he said.
According to Smith, Rockville High School has five security people and a school resource officer. But they are reviewing everything they do “to make sure that nothing like this can ever happen again under any circumstances.”
“I want to reassure our parents that their children are safe and that we will work vigilantly over the coming days,” Smith said. “We have been working all weekend and yesterday to look at every single aspect of our safety plan – everything we do. And we are going to put out something in the next few days, certainly by early next week, with the latest to our principals. We will make it available to our community as we review all of our safety efforts in our schools – with our school safety and security teams, with our school resource officers, with our teachers when they give hall passes to students who leave the classrooms, with our administrators. Just to up the level and sense of security across our schools and to make sure that we have covered any gaps.”
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‘This is not an issue that we are going to move to the political level’
Sanchez and Montano have only been in the United States for only several months after coming from Guatemala and El Salvador just over half a year ago. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has lodged an immigration detainer on both suspects.
Their immigration status has raised alarms locally in the Montgomery County community, with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan at the state level, and even nationally as White House press secretary Sean Spicer chimed in his thoughts on the situation.
“We do not know what anyone's immigration status is in the school system because the law says we don't collect that and we don't,” said Dr. Smith. “But of those 25,000 [students who speak another language as their first home language], some are here with different kinds of documentation and some have none. And it is wholly and entirely inappropriate for any of us, anytime, anywhere to say that we are going to deprive a 6-year-old, an 8-year-old, a 12-year-old, a 14-year-old, a 15- and 18-year-old of an education because a horrible incident happened last Thursday in one of our schools.”
The superintendent said they are following the rules of the law in allowing eligible students to attend their schools.
“We do our business by the rule of law in this country and that is what the law says,” he said. “It gives us pretty explicit information about who we should serve and we want to serve them because we know that it would not be good for any child, no matter any circumstance or characteristic, to go without an education in this society and in this community. So it's very, very important that we help all students become productive members of society and it is the requirement. Additionally, Maryland has compulsory attendance laws from age 5 to 17 this year and next year that will go to 18.”
Who is responsible?
"The student who committed the crime is primarily responsible," said Smith. "I am responsible. All of the people who work in Montgomery County Public Schools are responsible. We all take responsibility for it. It's a terrible, horrible thing, but the student who committed the crime ultimately has to be the one who is responsible for what happened on that morning."
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