A report of the rape of a 14-year-old girl at Rockville High School in March set off alarms among parents, students and school officials within the wider Metropolitan Washington DC area.
Demonstrators in Montgomery County, Md. urged government officials to crack down on illegal immigration during a protest on Mar. 26 after learning that the two students suspected of committing the crime – 18-year-old Henry Sanchez and 17-year-old Jose Montano, both of whom have been charged as adults with first-degree rape – are undocumented immigrants.
According to The Washington Post’s account of the protest outside Montgomery County government headquarters, other protestors and counter-protestors worried that the victim’s horrific experience was being exploited to further a political agenda. Demonstrators also expressed concern that the older students were in the same classrooms as the younger victim, though school officials have repeatedly said that was not the case.
“I have problems with illegal immigration, but that is not the issue,” former Republican House of Delegates candidate Patricia Fenati told The Washington Post. “The issue is that they’re pushing these kids into classrooms with younger children.”
Montgomery school officials have emphasized that Sanchez and Montano were in a separate program for non-English speaking students, not standard ninth-grade classes.
Still, that fact has not quieted complaints or safety concerns.
Montgomery County schools superintendent Jack Smith announced on Mar. 30 that school district staff will review security protocol at all 204 schools, starting with its 25 high schools.
While Fairfax County is a separate jurisdiction in an entirely different state, the Rockville High School case prompted Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) to take similar measures.
“FCPS works closely with local law enforcement officials to help provide a safe learning environment in our schools,” FCPS public information officer John Torre told the Fairfax County Times in a Mar. 28 email. “…While we have the utmost confidence in our building security, we have asked schools to review [the] safety protocols in place as we do on a regular basis.”
All FCPS middle, secondary, and high schools have assigned school resource officers (SROs) who serve as a law enforcement resource. The school system has 53 in total, according to Torre.
School administrators, security staff, and teachers also assist with monitoring hallways, school grounds, and other facilities throughout the school day.
Like Montgomery County, Fairfax County accommodates students regardless of their immigration status, in part because the school system is required to do so by federal law, according to Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova.
Bulova says that she sometimes receives calls and emails from people complaining about the presence of immigrants or the children of immigrants in the county school system.
“It’s important for them to know that they are in our schools because they’re required to be under federal law, but also those kids are important to us,” Bulova said. “We want to make sure that they have a learning experience that helps them to thrive in this community. Wherever they came from, however they got here, they’re in our school system.”
However, FCPS does require in its regulation 2202.10 that students present a birth certificate in order to be eligible for enrollment. If they are unable to obtain a copy of their birth certificate, they can submit an affidavit with supporting documentation explaining the student’s age and why they are unable to show a birth certificate.
Regulation 2202.10 also requires that students present proof of residence as part of the admission process, as well as three official documents, such as a driver’s license, pay stub, car registration or tax return, that display a parent or guardian’s name and the Fairfax County address where their family resides.
The student registration coordinator can make exceptions for these requirements “to the extent necessary to comply with national security requirements, to protect the safety of the registering student, or to comply with applicable state and federal requirements for the enrollment of homeless children.”
FCPS also has specific--albeit perhaps convoluted--policies regarding age requirements.
According to policy 2202.7, anyone who will reach their fifth birthday on or before Sept. 30 of a given school year and has not reached 20 years of age by Aug. 1 of the school year is eligible for admission into FCPS on a non-tuition basis, as long as they reside in Fairfax County.
Fairfax County residents who do not speak English as their first language and first entered school in Virginia after their 12th birthday are eligible for non-tuition admission if they have not turned 22 years old before or on Aug. 1 of the school year.
Similarly, Fairfax County residents receiving special education services who have not graduated with a high school diploma may be admitted on a non-tuition basis if they have not reached 22 years of age on or before Sept. 30.
Over-school age Fairfax County residents, meaning people who are 20 years old or older, can attend FCPS adult education classes on a non-tuition basis if their primary goal is to complete high school.These older students are generally placed in an alternative setting, rather than in traditional classrooms with school-age students, according to Torre.
For instance, FCPS has two alternative high schools – Bryant Alternative High School and Mountain View Alternative High School – with programs designed specifically for students who need a smaller school environment or have had life circumstances that interrupted their education or resulted in them dropping out of school.
These schools serve students who are between 17 and 22 years of age. The population includes people who need to accommodate work or family requirements, pregnant or parenting students, older students returning to school to earn a diploma, and students for whom English is a new language.
Fairfax County also has transitional English-as-a-second-language (ESOL) high schools for students who are 18 or older and in grades nine through 11.
According to the FCPS website, transitional ESOL high schools provide instruction at eight different locations: Annandale High School, Bryant Alternative High School, Falls Church High School, Graham Road Center, Herndon High School, Lee High School, Pimmit Hills Center, and Stuart High School.
Class times at each site vary, though Graham Road and Pimmit Hills Centers are the only locations that hold morning classes. The other locations hold classes in the evening or late afternoon after regular classes have been dismissed.