After postgame fight, parents say: Punish attackers, not athletes | #schoolsaftey

This article was updated at 11:08 a.m. to include comment from Montgomery County Police Department spokesperson Shiera Goff.

Parents are calling for more collaboration between Montgomery County Public Schools and local police following an outbreak of violence in downtown Bethesda that injured at least three students after a high school football game Friday night.

Families of students at Bethesda-Chevy Chase and Walter Johnson high schools in interviews said they wanted the perpetrators held responsible but overwhelmingly expressed a desire not to see their athletic teams bear the repercussions for the violent acts of “a few bad apples” via canceled matches or other schedule changes.

The BCC principal also wrote to families Tuesday that those who recorded and distributed video of the violence on social media would be “held accountable.”

This is at least the second year in a row in which violence has broken out related to a Montgomery County Public Schools football game; a fight last year resulted in canceled seasons for Gaithersburg and Northwestern high schools. Friday’s assaults also mark one of several instances of violence already this season near high school football games around the country, including the shooting of a 12-year-old outside a Friday night game in Baltimore. And it’s symptomatic of violence that has surrounded games between B-CC and Walter Johnson in the past, some parents have said.

“The [Bethesda] game itself was a festive event. That’s not the problem—nothing happened in the stadium,” said B-CC Athletics Booster President Rex Garcia-Hidalgo, who attended his team’s home game Friday. “The problem is outside school property in downtown Bethesda. We shouldn’t be penalizing our student athletes because of the mistakes and problems of other kids.”

Montgomery County Police spokesperson Shiera Goff confirmed that the department had launched an investigation into the incident and are “working to identify people who may have been involved,” but have not yet made any arrests. The night of the game, she said police commander responsible for that district had assigned extra officers to the area for support during the game and afterwards.

“However, the situation got out of hand and there were certain areas where officers were not,” Goff said.

Police are aware that there is a historically strong rivalry between B-CC and Walter Johnson student bodies, according to Goff. She said athletic games held at B-CC can pose unique safety challenges given the campus’s urban location in downtown Bethesda.

Officials with the Metro Transit Police did not respond to requests for comment from MoCo360 Tuesday and Wednesday.

The violence amid a large group of students broke out near the Bethesda Metro Station. Videos of the incident circulating on social media show some students repeatedly kicking and punching other students, one of whom can be seen lying on the sidewalk in a fetal position.

A joint letter sent to the school communities by B-CC principal Shelton Mooney and Walter Johnson principal Jennifer Baker described the incident as “completely unacceptable” and having resulted in “some serious student injuries.”

MCPS spokesperson Chris Cram said that the school district’s internal investigation was still under way but confirmed that “at least three students” were injured and required medical attention.

“Specific student discipline is protected by privacy laws, but students are being identified and discipline is being determined,” Cram wrote. “Both principals have committed to communicating as the investigation is complete.”

Garcia-Hidalgo described several safety precautions put in place at B-CC in anticipation of Friday’s game, including limiting the capacity of fans in the stadium, requiring photo identification to enter, prohibiting backpacks and encouraging MCPS security officers and police personnel to roam the stands. He said B-CC also offered its own fans a post-game hip-hop show and merchandise raffles to give the visiting team and its fans extra time to exit the stadium first to further avoid conflict on school grounds by staggering departures—which he said, “worked perfectly.”

According to Cram, the B-CC/Walter Johnson game had been designated a “tier one” event in accordance with the school district’s Fall Athletics Safety Plan, the lowest of three designated tiers requiring varying levels of safety precautions. MCPS first introduced the three-tier policy last fall after the Gaithersburg-Northwest football game incident. At tier two, spectators are limited to students of the home team’s school only, as well as families of student athletes. At tier three, concessions stands may be closed and, “in extreme circumstances,” spectators may be barred from the stadium.

School administrators and security staff create operational safety plans for each game on a weekly basis, Cram said. He also confirmed that there is a police presence at every game per a longstanding agreement between MCPS and Montgomery County Police Department.

“As a school, we have all these guidelines and restrictions that we can enforce at the school, but MCPS security can’t patrol downtown Bethesda. That’s not their job,” Garcia-Hidalgo said. “I don’t think the entire student body should pay for the actions of a couple bad apples.”

Other B-CC and Walter Johnson parents uniformly echoed Garcia-Hidalgo’s desire not to see the athletic team’s schedules affected by outside violent acts. When a fight broke out between the football teams of Gaithersburg and Northwest high schools in September 2022, MCPS responded by suspending all remaining games at both schools. Cram did not immediately respond to requests for comment on whether the school district was considering implementing similar action related to B-CC and Walter Johnson’s teams.

Several parents said they want to see the students involved in Friday’s violence identified and punished appropriately for their actions to discourage future occurrences.

“There has to be a way to stop them thinking it’s OK and that they’re not going to get in trouble,” said one Walter Johnson parent, who requested to remain anonymous for privacy reasons. “I don’t know what that consequence is. It’s not my place. But if they don’t feel that there’s any repercussions to their actions, they’re just going to keep doing this—and it’s going to get worse.”

She said Walter Johnson’s field hockey and boys’ soccer teams are scheduled to play B-CC the first week of October, and several parents have already reached out to her to express concern about that. The games are scheduled on weeknights, which she said she hopes will help curb the potential for violence.

On Tuesday, Mooney wrote a follow-up letter to the B-CC community updating them on the status of the police investigation into Friday’s incident, which he said is active and ongoing. An all-staff meeting was held Tuesday at B-CC to identify resources to help students process the incident, Mooney wrote. He added that he also spoke directly with students to reiterate that resorting to violence is an “unacceptable choice.”

“Those who made the choice to video and post this behavior will also be held accountable as this adds to disruption and inappropriately celebrates violence,” Mooney’s letter reads.

Cram did not immediately respond to inquiries about whether Baker had sent a similar letter to the Walter Johnson community.

Christo Doyle is the parent of a B-CC junior athlete and is himself a former B-CC football captain. He described social media as dangerous fuel for incidents like Friday’s brawl.

“Kids know where they’re going after a game on Snapchat or Instagram, and very quickly they all know what’s happening,” he said. “You get 50 or 60 kids all with [high-resolution] phones in their pockets filming—it’s a powder keg, and it’s bound to go off. And I think that’s what happened Friday night.”

Doyle said he’s been working very hard to impart to his daughter and her friends the importance of not encouraging violence by making it a spectacle. He said he wants to see the students involved in Friday night’s incident face consequences, but that he also hopes the situation doesn’t spur an overreaction.

“I don’t think we can bubble-wrap our children. We have to teach them what right and wrong is,” he said. “I just feel like these kids need to learn how to behave in the world. You can’t just throw a punch at your rival, and some kids still need to learn that.”

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