On Monday Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett confirmed that the two students who allegedly raped a female student at Rockville High School on March 16, 2017, both have outstanding U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) orders.
In a prepared statement, Leggett said, “I was immediately sick and disgusted when it was reported that two young men raped a 14-year-old student at Rockville High School last Thursday. This should not happen. Period. My deepest condolences go out to this young girl and her family.”
Leggett explained that these individuals had no previous involvement in the County’s criminal justice system. He pledged, “If convicted, and after serving their sentences, the County — consistent with our longstanding policy — will cooperate fully with ICE to see that the two are deported to their countries of origin.”
Admitting that anxiety is high, Leggett’s message to the Rockville High School community and the neighborhoods it serves was that “the County government and the school system will do whatever is necessary to keep your children safe.”
Unfortunately, this crime was politicized by some who lashed out against “sanctuary cities”.
During his weekly press conference on Monday, Montgomery County President Roger Berliner said he has seen the emails holding the County responsible for this terrible incident, which he rejected in the strongest terms possible insisting that Montgomery County is not a sanctuary jurisdiction and any statement otherwise is simply false.
“I stand by the Montgomery County way which is that we are not federal immigration enforcement agents and our police chief has said to do so, will harm public safety, the very value that’s at stake here. On the other hand, we do not cuddle those who violate the privilege of being in our County, so I believe we strike the right balance.” Berliner said.
On Monday, Brigitta Mullican, an unsuccessful candidate for Mayor and City Council, appeared on a Tucker Carlson segment on the Fox Network about the rape. During the interview, she admitted that the City of Rockville did not use the word “sanctuary” but rather wanted to clarify the role of police in immigration law enforcement which she started a petition against. She spoke of many Chinese speaking out on this issue at the recent public hearing because they came to the United States for “law and order”, admitting she was also for “law and order”. She described the system as putting illegals in the schools, which she opposes. On Tuesday while standing outside Rockville High School during a meeting for parents, she was interviewed by the Fox Network and reversed her earlier statement, “I’m disgusted that my City Council is going to approve sanctuary city,” then later said, “Not everybody thinks that it’s right to have illegals in our high schools and not to cooperate with federal immigration law.”
Carlson said on air, “This is insanity of course, it’s a sign of a sick civilization at war with itself.”
A Fox Network reporter elevated the rhetoric all the way up to the White House yesterday by asking Press Secretary Sean Spicer about the incident and whether schools should be forced nationwide to check immigration status before admitting students. He replied it was a state issue, “There’s so many facets of this case that deserve question, why was there, I think he was 17 or 18 years old, 18, thank you, and how does that person get put into the 9th grade? Why was it?”
“Part of the reason that the President has made illegal immigration and crack down such a big deal is because of tragedies like this.” said Spicer.
Yesterday Maryland Governor Larry Hogan attacked Montgomery County, “Not only have they refused to provide any information to us but they’ve refused to provide it to the state Board of Education who specifically requested such information.”
At a press conference on Tuesday, Montgomery County Superintendent of Schools, Jack Smith, refuted these claims and corrected the misinformation being spread, but first he stated, “It has been a terrible, horrible thing for this young woman to experience, and will have ongoing negative effects for her, we offer her a great deal of support and we are very, very interested in reviewing all the things we do now to make sure nothing like this can ever happen again under any circumstance.”
“Many people would like to change the conversation and make it more than this incident, but it is not,” said Smith. “While some would try to make this into a question and issue of immigration, what comes down here is that we serve every student who walks in our door. We are a public school system and we serve all of our students when they come to us. When we look at that, it’s not only the right thing to do, and it benefits the students and our community and our state, it’s also the law of the land.”
Stating that schools throughout the state, and the entire country, do the same, Smith cited Plyler v. Doe, a Supreme Court case that interpreted the Constitution of the United States.
“We do our business by the rule of law in this country and that’s what the law says,” Smith emphasized, “It gives us pretty explicit information about who we should serve.” Maryland also has compulsory attendance laws from 5 to 17, and next year that will be required for 18-year olds.
About student immigration status Smith said, “The law says we don’t collect that, and we don’t.” The school system is also not allowed to do criminal background checks on students.
“The vast majority of communications that have come to me and to our school board have been from concerned parents,” continued Smith, “but not all. Some of them from people who have used really racist, hate-filled rhetoric about different people based on different personal characteristics and that is not the community I moved to last summer. It’s not the community I want to live in. We should reject that from those people. We should say no. We’re not going to paint all students who speak another language, all students of a skin color, all students of a religion, with a broad brush because of a really terrible incident.”
“So I am saying ‘no’ tonight. We are going to take care of our students. We are going to take care of this student who experienced this trauma. But what we are not going to do is say that 25,000 of our students shouldn’t go to school because they speak another language as their home language.” declared Smith. Montgomery County Public Schools serves 160,000 students across 204 schools.
Clearing up a matter that has been falsely repeated by many, Smith said, ” The fact is that these students were not in the same class, they were not in the same classes, but many students between the 9th and 12th grade, between 14 or 15 and 18 or 19 or 20, are in the same classes. They are in the same band class. They are in the same world language class. In the same play after school and present their theater productions. They are in all sorts of things, as a teacher and a middle school principal, I’ve observed this for the last 37 years.”
During the press conference, MCPD Captain James Humphries stressed that this was an active and ongoing investigation, so he could not jeopardize the outcome. He described the area of the attack as “a kind of a remote area in the school” and said that the rape occurred early in the morning. There were some students in the area, but not many. One of the suspects was known to the victim, but they weren’t in the same class. When asked about the victim’s legal status, Humphries had no information other than that she was a U.S. resident. He also clarified that the suspects had never been in contact with the Montgomery County Police Department. As the judicial process unfolds, Humphries said the details will come out.
Smith also wanted to clear up what was being said about the grade level of the alleged attackers. The suspects were in the English learner program called METS, Multidisciplinary Educational Training and Support, not a regular grade level, although the registration system assigns a grade level based on credits. According to the MCPS website, METS students receive instruction in developing English language proficiency and basic literacy and academic skills.
Admitting that the number of foreign language students has grown, Smith said they started to look at it last year.
“We going to take a good, hard look at how we place students, and we always want to do that. That’s about continuous improvement of our program for learning.”
In response to the accusations from Governor Hogan, Smith said the State Superintendent had called him about 1:30 or 2:00 in the afternoon and he told her he would send along all the information being put together for the press conference and it was sent.
“Beyond that I don’t have any idea about what he might be talking about,” said Smith.
Although in hindsight he admitted he probably should have had the press conference earlier, he explained they were still sorting out what could be said due to the investigation and also absolutely wanted to protect the victim.
Smith promised families the school system was going to review every single aspect of their safety plan and then send updated information to principals and the community by early next week. The school safety and security teams, including School Resource Officers, will be involved, and measures would be put in place to up the level of security across all schools.
Prior to the second semester of this school year, both Rockville High School and Richard Montgomery High School were the only two high schools in the County that did not have full-time School Resource Officers assigned to their buildings. Resource Officers are sworn uniformed law enforcement officers trained in emergency preparedness, crisis management, community policing concepts, and problem solving.
At Rockville High School, Principal Billie-Jean Bensen, has already announced additional steps inside the school building to help keep students safe, “I have asked teachers to limit passes, check attendance several times during classes, and to keep detailed records on students out of class. Teachers will be reporting ANY student who is out for more than five minutes. Administrators will be checking attendance records every period along with main office staff. We will be contacting parents during the day. Security will be instituting hall sweeps during class time and assigning consequences for students not in their assigned classroom.” Also students or classes will not be permitted to stand at the door before the bell.
In her message to students, Bensen said,”I am so deeply sorry that our school and community are dealing with a horrible crime. I want you to know that your safety continues to be my greatest concern and my priority is for you to be and feel safe at school. I am so proud to be your principal and so proud of you every day. Right now we need to stay together and support each other- All of us. We need to come together and not let others define us. We will get through this as a school community and we will heal.”