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'It's not who we are' | MCPS tightens security after 5 charged at high school football game brawl

After four juveniles were charged with assault at a game, spectator rules are getting stricter while gatherings will be curtailed, among other shifts.

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. — Montgomery County Public School officials joined forces Wednesday to announce their future security measures after a brawl broke out at a Friday night football game, leaving four juveniles and a 19-year-old facing charges.

MCPS suspended football operations temporarily at Northwest and Gaithersburg high schools after the fight broke out on the field between players from the schools around 8:23 p.m. 

Police said a school staff member and a police officer were assaulted but sustained non-life-threatening injuries. Another victim was treated for lacerations.

In addition, Northwest High School Coach Travis Hawkins reportedly failed to de-escalate the brawl after hitting the opponent's athletic director, according to court documents. Officials said in a press conference Wednesday that they could not yet comment on the staff members' behavior or their response due to the ongoing investigation.

RELATED: Football coach accused of striking Gaithersburg athletic director in head during large brawl, court documents say

MCPS Superintendent Dr. Monifa McKnight shared that, traditionally, all football game operations have included a safety plan, with special details for especially large events. However, she said that they're not looking to use yesterday's action plans to address today's problems.

Director of Systemwide Athletics for MCPS, Jeffrey Sullivan, shared the details of the plans that will be put in place ahead of any future Friday night lights.

Starting this week, any school-aged child who does not attend one of the two schools competing in the game will need to be accompanied by an adult. Students from the competing schools will need to show their student ID or a printed schedule at the gate. 

Sullivan said that's because analyzed data has shown that students involved in negative behavior at previous events have often been from other schools that were not involved in the game. 

He added that there will also be increased enforcement of keeping students and other spectators seated throughout the game in order to minimize gatherings. 

Spectators will also no longer be admitted after halftime; an enhancement of the currently in-place no re-entry policy. There will also be more restrictions in place regarding who is allowed on the sidelines at games. The only personnel welcomed on the sidelines will be student-athletes, coaches, game officials, athletic department staff, those with credentials and the media. 

Backpacks also will not be allowed into community events and games. 

The athletics director said the above outlines are the "Tier 1" plans, and hopefully, no further methods will need to be implemented. However, a "Tier 2" plan has been designed and will be put in place if needed.

Tier 2 plans include further limiting the number of spectators allowed at games, only allowing students who attend the two competing schools and their family members to come to games, or suspending teams or players engaging in brawls or inappropriate behavior from contests and post-season competitions.

In addition, games may be moved earlier, during daylight, or to alternate days to accommodate the availability of police, security and other officials.

"We can't have teams demonstrating actions in conflict with our core values," Sullivan said. 

He went on to introduce a "Tier 3" strategy that would be in place in the most extreme of circumstances. 

Those would include closing concession stands, only allowing parents of players at games, or having no spectators, at all. 

McKnight acknowledged the importance of continuing to celebrate the hard work of student-athletes, and the adults guiding them, while also preserving the cultural tradition and excitement of a high school football game.

"But, we will not tolerate any sort of indefensible or violent behaviors because that then becomes a violation of our community," she said.

President of the Board of Education Brenda Wolff echoed her sentiments.

"What we witnessed on social media is not who we are in Montgomery County. We just aren't the people you saw on the news," said Wolff. "It must be said that the behavior of a few bad apples must not be what you understand about MCPS."

Wolff went on the share that the school system just announced that 147 students have been acknowledged as National Merit semifinalists. However, Wolff did acknowledge that post-pandemic, students across the school system have faced behavioral issues both in and outside of school. 

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