Home > Uncategorized > Montgomery County Superintendent Does the Right Thing in Handling Alleged Rape by Immigrant Students… Fox News Doesn’t

Montgomery County Superintendent Does the Right Thing in Handling Alleged Rape by Immigrant Students… Fox News Doesn’t

With the country deeply divided over the question of immigration, Montgomery County (MD) Superintendent Jack Smith encountered a nightmare scenario in his school district: two immigrant students raped a 14 year old in a school bathroom. Here’s an excerpt from a Fox News report of the incident that occurred five days earlier at Rockville High School:

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.

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.

To his credit, Mr. Smith took personal responsibility for the incident while at the same time trying reassure parents that the incident was an anomaly, that the district had sufficient safety measures in place at each of its schools, and that it was following its lawful responsibility to educate all youths who walk in its door. In his press conference, he addressed anticipated questions on each of these issues:

SAFETY MEASURES IN PLACE: “I want to reassure our parents that their children are safe and that we will work vigilantly over the coming days. 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.”

THE SCHOOL DISTRICT’S RESPONSIBILITY TO EDUCATE IMMIGRANTS WITHOUT FULL KNOWLEDGE OF THEIR STATUS: “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. 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.”

“We do our business by the rule of law in this country and that is what the law says. 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.”

THE SCHOOL DISTRICT ACCEPTS RESPONSIBILITY: “The student who committed the crime is primarily responsible (for the crime). 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.”

Mr. Smith’s forthright explanation, appropriate acceptance of responsibility, and thorough investigation should win him accolades. But in this environment, I would be surprised if that were the case. Already the Maryland Governor, the President’s Office, and Fox News have seized on this case as evidence that immigrants entering this country— particularly those from the south— are criminals and rapists. And the media— particularly Fox News— are doing Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) no favors. The Fox News story that this article links to includes links to several different articles with words like “outrage” and phrases like “unanswered questions” without Fox News accepting its own responsibility for spreading outrage.

From my perspective, this incident provides a textbook case of the media failing to focus on how an investigation unfolds and why it takes time for a responsible leader to issue a report to the media. Instead of headlining the MCPS’s performance of due diligence, it’s adherence to the rule of law, and the complexities of engaging law enforcement officials in an incident that occurs on school property during school hours, the Fox News headline read: “MCPS Superintendent Finally Speaks to Fox 5 About Rape Case”. When confronted by Fox News reporters as he left his office on Monday, Mr. Smith gave them the facts on the procedure he was following

“I put out a letter last night,” said Smith. “It’s a terrible situation. It’s a horrible situation. We looked at all the information from Thursday and we handed it over to the police immediately. At this point, it is their investigation.

I know from experience as a Superintendent who has handed investigations to police departments that once that hand-off occurs it is necessary for us to say nothing to the press. Any statements we offer could impede the police work or, worse, taint the case in a fashion that might compromise a case once it gets to court. Rather than explain this reality to the public like local news outlets tend to do, Fox News has used this need for confidentiality to portray Mr. Smith as willfully obfuscating the public’s need to know. After characterizing his behavior in this fashion, they can easily find a parent or citizen who is “outraged” at the administrations unwillingness to be forthcoming. This vicious cycle of “news reporting” undercuts the rule of law in our democracy.

I don’t know the facts of the case, but I do know the procedures a public school administrator must follow, and I commend Mr. Smith for trying his best to inform the public of those procedures, for defending those procedures, and for advocating for them. When the day comes that we convict people of crimes based on a news report from the mass media, our democracy will be ended. When the day comes that an administrator’s need to provide grist for the news cycle is more important than providing those accused of a crime of receiving due process the rule of law will be ended.

Mr. Smith’s descriptions of the alleged crime as “horrible” is accurate. Fox News’ coverage of this is also “horrible”. This case provided a teachable moment for them and for all the news media. They could have used this incident to explain the horrific conditions these two alleged rapists experienced growing up in Guatemala and El Salvador. They could have used this incident to explain how ICE made the determination that they should be allowed to have entry to our country and the free public education that is associated with that entry. They could have used this incident to explain the rationale for the school district handing investigations like this over to police and the consequences of that decision by the school district. But instead of using this incident to explain this background and to explain how an investigation unfolds and why it takes time for a responsible leader to issue a report to the media, Fox News, the Maryland Governor’s office, and the President of the United States seized on this as an opportunity to sue the flames of outrage against immigrants.

With this kind of reportage, it is no surprise that the public is increasingly cynical of our government, our public schools, and our leadership.

 

 

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