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Loudoun County fires superintendent after grand jury finds school district mishandled sexual assaults

Loudoun County, School Board, Viginia
A woman sits with her sign during a Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) board meeting in Ashburn, Virginia, on October 12, 2021. |

The superintendent of a high-profile Virginia school district has been fired after a grand jury concluded that district leadership "failed at every juncture" to take actions that could have prevented the sexual assault of a female high school student. 

The school board of Loudoun County, Virginia, located in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., voted to fire Superintendent Scott Ziegler Tuesday, less than a week after a grand jury released a report concluding that district leaders were "looking out for their own best interests" in their responses to two sexual assaults that took place at two separate high schools at the hands of the same student.

The decision, made during a closed session, was unanimous. Local news outlet Loudoun Now reported that Ziegler will be paid his $323,000 annual salary and compensation because he was fired without cause.  

The first incident took place in a girls' bathroom at Stone Bridge High School on May 28, 2021, where a male student wearing a skirt sexually assaulted a female student. The same student was ultimately transferred to another high school in the district, Broad Run High School, where he engaged in another sexual assault on Oct. 6, 2021.

The grand jury determined that the second sexual assault "could have, and should have, been prevented" but happened anyway because of "a remarkable lack of curiosity and adherence to operating in silos by LCPS administrators." Loudoun County Public Schools received national media attention long before the details of the sexual assaults became public in October 2021.

At a tense school board meeting in June 2021, parents and community members expressed opposition to the since-enacted Policy 8040, which allows trans-identified students to use bathrooms that correspond with their stated gender identity instead of their biological sex.

When asked if a sexual assault had ever taken place in bathrooms within the school district, Ziegler denied that such an assault had taken place even though he emailed school board members the day of the first assault to tell them about it.

The grand jury characterized this assertion as a "lie." An email obtained by the grand jury reveals that the chief operating officer of the school district informed Ziegler that the incident was directly related to Policy 8040. 

The Loudoun County School Board ultimately approved Policy 8040 in August 2021, and the second sexual assault occurred less than two months later. The grand jury report identifies multiple examples of the perpetrator engaging in inappropriate behavior, including one instance preceding the initial sexual assault at Stone Bridge High School.

On May 12, 2021, a teacher's assistant monitoring a study hall sent an email to a teacher and department chair expressing concern that the perpetrator had "come into class more than once with his arm around a girl's neck" in addition to repeatedly "sitting on other girls' laps several times." She wrote, "if this kind of reckless behavior persists, I wouldn't want to be held accountable if someone should get hurt."

One of the email recipients notified a school administrator and the student's case manager about the concerns laid out in the message, which resulted in a phone call to his mother. Besides the phone call, little disciplinary action was taken because it was merely the 14th day of in-person instruction following coronavirus lockdowns. Although the assistant principal "had seen him in the office" before for "other discipline incidents," the email from the teacher's assistant constituted the "first that had gotten to [his] attention."

The sexual assault occurred 16 days after the email. A special education teacher's assistant walked into the bathroom during the May 28 assault and saw two sets of feet under the stall, a factor she dismissed as routine because "somebody could have their period" or "somebody had a boyfriend they had a fight with." The student remained at large for over three hours, which the report insisted was "jeopardizing the safety of all students." 

Ziegler informed the school board about the May 28 sexual assault but declined to provide additional information about the incident when pressed by a school board member. The public remained unaware of the sexual assault until a Daily Wire report was published in October 2021.

The report stirred outrage and calls for Ziegler's resignation. While the school district defended its actions, the grand jury report contends that more could have been done to prevent the second sexual assault.

After spending a short period in juvenile detention over the summer of 2021, the perpetrator was transferred out of Stone Bridge High School as part of his release agreement. The principal of Stone Bridge High School informed the principal of Broad Run High School of the student transfer, mentioning that "the student was facing a sexual assault charge and had a court order that did not allow him to return to SBHS." The BRHS principal did not ask for more details in what the grand jury report classified as another example of a "lack of curiosity." 

Eventually, the director of school administration sent the BRHS principal a letter informing him of the transfer, which resulted in a meeting between the principal, the student and his mother. The student's mother and grandmother had repeatedly urged school officials to address concerns about the child's behavior but contended that the district did not respond adequately.

After the new school year began, the student's graphic arts teacher told the principal that two female students reported that he was stalking them. The art teacher, who did not know of the student's disciplinary history and the sexual assault, cited her conversation with the principal as an effort to make him aware of the situation "in case anything else had kind of occurred in other classes or anything that I wasn't aware of." 

The principal vowed to "check in" with the student, but little action was taken besides the teacher moving the female students further away from the perpetrator in class. According to the report, less than a month before the Oct. 6, 2021, sexual assault, the student "made some inappropriate sexual comments to a female student" in his English class in addition to grabbing her shoulder "really hard" and tapping her on the head with a pencil. 

The student also inquired whether his female classmate had ever posted naked photos of herself online and asked another classmate if his grandmother had done the same. While the BRHS assistant principal thought the incident in the boy's English class constituted a Title IX violation for sexual harassment, the superintendent's chief of staff disagreed. 

"Not a single person with knowledge of the student's history or of this current action stepped in to do anything," the report stated. "Instead, discipline was left to the BRHS principal, who did nothing more than issue a verbal reprimand." 

The grand jury's report attributed the lack of action leading up to the second sexual assault to "a culture of fear" within the district where "anybody speaking up or daring to step out of place faces some sort of reprimand." 

The board is scheduled to name Chief of Staff Daniel Smith as acting superintendent at an emergency meeting Thursday night. The acting superintendent will serve "until a newly appointed superintendent assumes office."

According to the Virginia Department of Education, Loudoun County Public Schools educates more than 82,000 students

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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