MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. (WDVM) — In the last month, hundreds of sexual harassment and assault allegations have been made by Montgomery County Public Schools students on social media, many of them on Instagram accounts tied to the names of Montgomery County High Schools.
Leaders at the county level say the volume of social media posts points out a big problem.
“When you look at those numbers and see how many students experienced this, there’s obviously an issue of underreporting,” said county council member Will Jawando, who sits on the council’s Education and Culture Committee.
On Monday, the school system outlined its procedures for responding to those allegations during an E&C committee meeting. The school system claims it has been able to shift its resources into four teams that are responsible for investigating the social media claims and the reports that continue to come in.
Greg Edmunson, Director of Student Welfare and Compliance for MCPS, said, “from our normal circumstances to now, we may not have had the capacity to deal with these claims until we we divided into four teams. We’re meeting every other day with over 30 people. We’ve been able to re-shift how we’re handling these things.”
Leaders say it’s been difficult to vet each of the claims made on social media, as many of them were anonymous or didn’t identify a victim or a perpetrator.
MCPS says it reports allegations to law enforcement, but emphasizes there’s a difference between the criminal investigation performed through the Montgomery County Police Department, and the investigating that happens in the school system.
Natalia Ahn, general counsel to MCPS, says the school system plays a different, but important, role in the investigative process.
“We as a school system are very well equipped, we know these students pretty well having worked with them. I think we provide a whole lot of context to what may be gray, rather than black and white,” said Ahn.
During the meeting, members of the council brought up concerns surrounding the barriers to reporting assault and harassment, including language barriers and outdated reporting methods.
Henry Johnson, MCPS Chief of Staff, said he’d have members of the MCPS team look into how many Title IX coordinators are bilingual and find ways to measure the impact of the language barrier on reporting concerns.
The school system currently offers drop boxes for reporting these incidents, but says it will look into more modern ways for students to report incidents to school leaders, like through an app.
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