DAMASCUS – Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Superintendent Jack Smith told reporters on May 14 that members of the Damascus High School staff have been disciplined to varying degrees in the aftermath of a recent investigation of supervision.
Athletic Director (AD) Joe Doody, junior varsity head coach Vincent Colbert and the entire JV coaching staff were removed from their positions within the school’s athletic department as school officials finalize a two-month investigation.
More than five months have passed since four freshmen on the junior varsity football team were allegedly sexually assaulted with a wooden broomstick by their teammates. The incident occurred in a campus locker room after school on Oct. 31.
Since then, Circuit Court Judge Steven Salant transferred all four suspects, who had been charged as adults, to juvenile court. The Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office began an investigation as to whether the rape was an isolated incident.
For nearly two months, MCPS investigated supervisory and reporting practices at Damascus, specifically on the afternoon of the alleged incident. MCPS determined the junior varsity football team was unsupervised between about 2:50 p.m. and 3:15 p.m., during which the alleged victims were apparently sodomized with a broomstick. The JV coaches who would have supervised the players in the locker room were “delayed” in reaching the school but insufficiently informed other coaches of that fact.
The investigation also considered reporting of the incident to the police and to the central office staff.
Smith wrote that the investigation included an interview with the JV head football coach and with staff at the school, who were contacted on Oct. 31 about the alleged incident. In addition, MCPS reviewed communications between those employees that evening, including text messages. MCPS first found out about the alleged incident when a parent contacted the junior varsity head coach on Oct. 31.
Smith wrote “Our investigation concluded that there is insufficient evidence at this time to suggest undue delay in reporting the incident,” Smith wrote in a May 14 letter to parents and guardians.
Smith wrote given that “several of the victims’ parents” have filed notices of civil litigation claims, MCPS did not interview the parent who first told the head JV coach about the alleged incident.
Coaches and staff members followed MCPS protocol in their response to the information they received the evening of Oct. 31, Smith wrote.
The investigation also examined whether coaches and staff involved in the Oct. 31 communication waited too long to inform police about the alleged incident. Smith told reporters that based on the information staff and coaches received on Oct. 31, it was not clear that a sexual assault had occurred.
During the last few weeks, the school athletic director and head junior varsity football coach were placed on leave by MCPS administrators for duration of the investigation. Doody serves as a teacher in Montgomery County Public Schools.
“He will not continue on as an AD; he may continue on as a teacher but not at Damascus High School,” Smith said.
Smith confirmed that on May 14 MCPS also disciplines Colbert.
“The JV coach will not be coaching or working for MCPS,” Smith said.
The JV head coach is not the only JV position that will be replaced.
“Damascus High School leadership has been given permission to begin seeking a new JV football coaching staff to give the school and team a fresh start for the upcoming season,” Smith wrote to parents and guardians.
Varsity football head coach Eric Wallich, however, will remain in his role at the school. Smith said he could not specify what disciplinary actions the varsity coach might have received.
Smith also said he could not share how many employees faced disciplinary action because, “If I say that, you’ll know exactly what was done.”
In addition to new leadership, the Swarmin’ Hornets will also have “probationary” oversight of supervision of the entire football program, as the MCPS investigation revealed the team was left unsupervised for at least 25 minutes Oct. 31.
Jeffrey Sullivan, director of system-wide athletics for MCPS, said the probationary oversight period will occur during the 2019-2020 school year.
“We will be supporting the school, the athletic program and the football program first, with the healing process. I think it’s important to bring the student-athletes, the coaches, the new athletic director and school administration together to work collaboratively with them,” Sullivan said.
The athletes will still practice and compete, but MCPS athletic department staff will make sure Damascus coaches always supervise the football players.
Sullivan did not disclose possible consequences for breaking new supervision requirements.
“We’re going to be supporting them from the get-go, so that there are no infractions,” Sullivan said. “That’s our goal.”
Smith wrote a letter to parents and guardians on May 14 with several updates on the MCPS investigation of supervision and reporting about Oct. 31, including that MCPS had hired a law firm to assist with further investigation.
Mid-April, Smith announced in a letter to Damascus parents and guardians that MCPS had started its investigation in the school and planned to hire a consultant to help with it. He did not indicate that MCPS had hired one at the time.
MCPS has received notices that there may be future civil suits against the school system, by the families of the alleged victims, Smith wrote in the letter on May 14.
On May 7, School Principal Casey Crouse informed Damascus families she was resigning as principal and that she planned to take a job elsewhere in the school system.
“Effective immediately, I am transitioning out of my role as principal to another position in MCPS,” Crouse wrote.
In the letter, Crouse summarized improvements in academic performance at the school.
“The focus inside the school during the school day has never wavered (despite negative media attention),” Crouse wrote. “However, it has become clear that in order for Damascus High School to move forward, it will require new school leadership.”
Faculty, staff, students and families would have the chance to learn about and meet acting Principal Kevin Yates in the days to follow.
Crouse brought the letter to a close, thanking staff, teachers, students and their families for their support “through all that we have experienced together.”
“I wish each of you only the best,” Crouse wrote.
Kathy Green, a specialist in the MCPS department of athletics, from the MCPS department of athletics, will complete some duties formerly assigned to the athletic director, MCPS Director of Public Information and Web Services Spokesperson Derek Turner said.
Acting principal for rest of the year will be Yates, who up until last week was a principal intern at Julius West Middle School.
“Mr. Yates has extensive experience as a high school and middle school administrator,” Crouse said.
Smith was the one to select Yates, Turner said. Yates maycan enter the application process to become the principal of the high school.
Tuesday morning, Yates greeted students at the main entrance. The students greeted him back, and he shook some of their hands. He was not available for comment before the deadline because students were taking standardized tests. But he met with parents and guardians in a “meet and greet,” which was closed to the public, on May 14.