Bullying and harassment in the halls of RM


Grace Burwell

The security office at RM.

Richard Montgomery, like most other high schools, is no stranger to bullying and harassment among students. Many bullying prevention programs that have sprung up in the past decade have found their way to RM, but age-old harassment tactics are still alive and well in the student body.

According to many RM students, the most prominent type of harassment they are familiar with isn’t the stereotypical physical fight, but rather the use of offensive or cruel language.

I’ve witnessed boys talking about harassing girls based on [their] clothing. I wouldn’t want to see it again.”

— An RM freshman

Verbal harassment tends to walk the line between teasing and bullying, but when asked if they had witnessed bullying or harassment, students identified the use of racial slurs, name-calling, stereotyping, and sexist remarks.

The amount of bullying and harassment that students claim to see at RM also depends upon perspective. In such a large school, one student’s experience with bullying will no doubt be different from another one’s. While one student may only witness light teasing, another may experience physical danger. An RM junior rated the school a seven on a one to 10 scale of harassment presence. “I feel good because I can defend myself,” he said.

Physical Fights

There are instances when physical fights occur between students. “Safe isn’t the word I would use, [but] unsafe isn’t either,” an RM freshman said. While not all students have been involved in a verbal or physical fight, some  have witnessed an experience that made them uncomfortable at school. “[The school] is safe, but there’s always an underlying fear of something happening,” said another student.

According to the head of security Denis Whalen, the security guards at RM have not had to deal with many physical altercations amongst students. “With a population of nearly 2600 students, everyone is very respectful of each other,” Whalen said. Magnet program coordinator Joseph Jelen, who surveys the second-floor hallways during school, said that he witnesses a fight about biweekly.

This is a shortened version of the yearly report of “serious incidents” that have occurred at RM -although these records do not define what a “serious incident” is- that appears under the Safety Glance page of the MCPS website.

The chart above identifies that there were no fights labeled “serious incidents” in the 2017-2018 school year, however, students and teachers have recalled multiple serious altercations between students, such as one that took place in Spanish teacher Sr. Jason Colchao’s classroom in the Spring of 2018. Two students in Sr. Colchao’s Spanish One class got into a violent physical fight that disrupted classroom instruction and forced security and other teachers to intervene. “That incident was very isolated and abnormal,” Sr. Colchao said.  

What is a serious incident?

According to Mr. Monteleone, the decision of reporting a serious incident lies in the hands of the RM administration. Monteleone explained that oftentimes an incident may seem shocking to students or staff is just a common occurrence in the lives of school administration. Once a member of administration decides an incident is worthy of reporting, their job is to call the MCPS Office of School Support and Improvement in order to put it on the school record. After an incident occurs, the school decides how severe the punishment should be. These punishments can range from in-school suspension to expulsion in terms of severity.

Student violence sometimes occurs outside of school, where there is no trained school security team to put a stop to it. “I have seen videos and heard testimony of students fighting, but it’s all outside of school,” Colchao said.

Just this year, Montgomery County experienced an abnormal occurrence, in which students at a local high school got into a serious fight and no police or medical assistance were called. In February, two students at Colonel Zadok Magruder High School in Derwood, Md., engaged in a violent physical fight during school, and one of the students fractured their skull. The student was vomiting and displaying signs of serious injury, yet the school did not call an ambulance, according to an article by WJLA News. The school only contacted the police after the student’s parent requested it.

In terms of efforts to decrease bullying in their schools, MCPS does offer a few solutions. RM staff members have been trained in conflict resolution, and this training is increasing across schools everywhere, particularly in Montgomery County. Another common method of dealing with an incident is the Bullying, Harassment, or Intimidation form, which gives students and parents the ability to report any incident to their school’s staff. These forms are one of the most used options to combat harassment at RM. “[There are] many bullying forms filled out,” Whalen said, “But not a lot of physical altercations.”