Rape Incident at Rockville Spurs Controversy

Rape Incident at Rockville Spurs Controversy

By Sara Heimlich and Rebecca Jackson

Two male illegal immigrant students, one 17 years old and one 18 years old, were accused of raping a 14-year-old student on Mar. 16 in a Rockville High School bathroom, prompting parental outrage and questions over Rockville’s unofficial status as a sanctuary city.


A sanctuary city is a city that permits the residency of illegal immigrants, helping them avoid deportation. Rockville’s legislature has not yet passed a bill to formally allow this practice, however one has been proposed. Due to being located in informal sanctuary cities, Rockville High School and CHS act under the jurisdiction of Maryland and accept illegal immigrants into the school systems.


“We are a sanctuary school in that we have to enroll everyone who comes through our doors,” Principal Joan Benz said. “It’s an American public school, so everyone who comes and enrolls

has a right to be here.”


Public schools have the right to do this due to the 1982 Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe which declared that undocumented immigrants have the constitutional right to public education in the United States.


The two students accused of rape both immigrated to the United States in 2016 and were detained prior to arriving in Rockville, Md. They were enrolled in classes not by their age, but rather by the credits and education they received from their previous school. Since their previous education was scarce, they were placed in lower-level classes.


According to Benz, CHS would have followed the same procedure as Rockville High School did in this situation because of MCPS policy and federal laws.


As news of the rape spread, the discussion quickly became a political one. However, talk of Rockville becoming a sanctuary city, and the backlash for this due to the political landscape of newly elected President Trump and his rhetoric against immigrants, was circulating long before the incident.


“I was very disappointed in how political the situation became,” Rockville junior Noah Chapman said.


According to a Mar. 7 article in Bethesda Beat, prior to the Rockville incident, Rockville councilmember Julie Palakovich Carr campaigned for formalization of a law that would declare Rockville a sanctuary city.


The idea originally gained a lot of traction, but support dipped after news broke that the the suspects of the alleged rape were illegal immigrants. At the city hall meeting, protesters from both sides of the debate showed up to testify. A final vote on the ordinance has yet to occur.


About three months ago, two Rockville citizens started petitions on change.org regarding Rockville’s status as an informal sanctuary city. One, titled “Say NO to Rockville Becoming a Sanctuary City,” has collected a total of 670 current signatures. The other, titled “Make Rockville, MD a Sanctuary City,” has collected 1,192 signatures.


According to an Observer poll of 100 CHS students, approximately 15 percent have, since the rape, changed their opinion and decided against Rockville being a sanctuary city, making a total of about 42 percent of students being against the official status change.


“Any kind of rape is really bad, and it was such a shame that it could have been prevented,” junior Bradford Wood said. “Illegal immigration is illegal. Laws should be enforced.”


Although some people hold a similar belief to Wood on illegal immigration, MCPS did follow the law by allowing the students into freshman classes.


Following the incident, superintendent Jack Smith released a statement on behalf of MCPS. He noted that no student can be denied an education, no matter their immigration status, and that this particular incident should not be made into a “question and issue of immigration.”


Rape is rape, regardless of the person’s legal status,” junior Mariam Hashem. “People are using this case to push the narrative that undocumented immigrants are rapists and that we need to tighten border security. What we really need to do is learn ways that we can prevent rape and assaults from happening.”


After the incident, Rockville High School started the “Rockvillestrong” saying, in order to encourage students to stick together through this tough time. However, one student feels that although certain measures taken by the school have been beneficial, further actions should have been taken.


“Administration attempted to claim that our school was safe, and tried to talk about being ‘rockville strong,’” Chapman said. “The student body was more concerned in learning more about the case since the school refused to provide details. [No change] I’ve seen is very major, or anything I think will actually help.”


However, since the rape, hall passes and bathroom sign-out sheets have been more strongly enforced at Rockville High School in order prevent another crime.


“At the end of the day it’s the school’s goal to create intelligent, productive citizens,” said Chapman. “If there is something some students lack, something that is putting them at risk for harm, then it should be the school’s priority to try and help their students.”


CHS has followed Rockville’s attempts in enforcing stronger safety measures.


According to Benz, there will be inspectors from the MCPS Department of Safety and Security to assess whether CHS has held up maximum safety standards. They will be taking the number of security cameras in the school and the placement of those cameras into account.


Although problems are still relevant, the new procedures taken by both schools aim to improve school morale and feelings of safety.


“The fear has died down but it still affects us,” Rockville junior Almina Alzouma said. “We started the ‘rockvillestrong’ saying to bring everybody together.”