RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The sexual assault of a Loudoun County high school student last year should have been prevented, and the school district “bears the brunt of the blame,” a grand jury investigation concluded.
The special grand jury report released on Monday also found there was “no coordinated cover-up” between senior administrators and local school board members, who were largely left in the dark as the district navigated national scrutiny over two sexual assaults at different high schools committed by the same student.
However, the report accused school leaders of practicing “intentional institutional amnesia” and perpetuating a”culture of fear” to prevent key details from becoming public. It said officials “failed at every juncture” to prevent the situation from escalating.
“We believe that throughout this ordeal LCPS administrators were looking out for their own interests instead of the best interest of LCPS. This invariably led to a stunning lack of openness, transparency, and accountability,” the report said.
The controversy grabbed national headlines and became a political flashpoint during statewide elections last year. Hours after taking office in January 2022, Governor Glenn Youngkin issued an executive order giving Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares the authority to investigate the school district’s conduct.
Miyares empaneled the special grand jury in April 2022. Its nine members heard testimony from more than 40 witnesses and reviewed over 100 pieces of evidence, according to the 92-page report.
The Loudoun County School Board filed an injunction to stop the grand jury investigation, arguing it was politically motivated. The Supreme Court of Virginia upheld a lower court’s decision to allow it to move forward.
The report claims a student “labeled as gender fluid” committed the first sexual assault in May 2021 in the girl’s bathroom at Stone Bridge High School. It said, after the incident occurred, the school’s principal communicated incomplete information to parents that never mentioned the sexual assault or that the accused student was missing for hours afterward.
The grand jury report claims LCPS Superintendent Scott Ziegler lied when he said he didn’t know of “any record of assaults occurring in our restrooms” during a June 2021 school board meeting, citing internal emails suggesting otherwise. The report said Stone Bridge High School’s principal also testified that Ziegler’s statement was “not true.”
After the first incident, the student was transferred to Broad Run High School, where he choked and sexually assaulted another female student in an empty classroom in October 2021, according to the report.
Prior to the second assault, school officials were accused of ignoring several signs that the student was a threat, including warnings from staff, fellow students and his own grandmother.
“It is our considered judgment that the October 6, 2021 sexual assault at BRHS never should have occurred,” the report reads. “Had any one of a number of individuals across a variety of entities spoken up or realized a serious problem was brewing regarding earlier incidents at BRHS then the sexual assault most likely would not have occurred. But nobody did.”
The report said administrators also failed to adequately discipline the student before the behavior escalated, contradicting claims that the school complied with its Title IX obligations.
“Behind the scenes, the LCPS Title IX procedures were essentially nonexistent, the staff was inexperienced, senior officials squabbled, and the superintendent was aware of it all,” the report said.
The report lays out recommendations for Loudoun County Public Schools to implement in the future. Some of the recommendations are to:
- include as much information as reasonably possible when informing parents, staff, students, and the community about significant incidents occurring on school property, on a school bus, or at a school-sponsored event
- re-examine its transfer process by establishing a formalized protocol that requires more vigorous cooperation and communication between, not only the two principals involved, but also, LCPS administration, assistant principals, faculty, SROs, and when relevant, the commonwealth’s attorney’s office, juvenile court authorities and the LCSO
- more involvement from the LCPS director of safety and security needs in situations that threaten the safety and security of students, faculty and staff
- Loudoun County School Board should tighten policies on the types of apps students can download on their school-issued devices
In a statement on Monday, Loudoun County School Board Chair Jeff Morse and Vice Chair Ian Serotkin said, “We are pleased that the Special Grand Jury’s extensive investigation found no evidence of criminal conduct on the part of anyone within LCPS, and not a single indictment was filed as a result of this lengthy process.”
The grand jury could still consider charges as Miyares’ office noted Monday that the special grand jury “has not been discharged.”
The school board members’ statement also contradicted a previous statement from Miyares alleging that LCPS “covered up a sexual assault on school grounds for political gain.”
“To the best of our knowledge, this allegation was not true, and, after conducting an eight-month investigative process, during which it had the ability to interview any LCPS employee, Board member, and any other individuals beyond the LCPS community it deemed relevant, and during which it had access to virtually any LCPS record that was not otherwise legally privileged, the Special Grand Jury neither cited any evidence to support this serious allegation nor made any such conclusion in its Report,” Morse and Serotkin said.
Morse and Serotkin said the board would hold immediate discussions over the “serious criticisms of LCPS employees and processes.” The statement said this would be placed on their next agenda to reflect on recommendations and take action as determined by the full Board.
A spokesperson for Miyares didn’t respond to an interview request on Monday but Miyares released a video statement.
“It is apparent that the Loudoun County School Board failed to provide proper oversight, accountability and transparency on the superintendent and their staff precisely at a time when the victims needed them the most,” Miyares said. “It is our hope that this grand jury report will bring about positive change, not just in Loudoun County schools, but also in every school district in the Commonwealth, because the protection of our children should be all of our number one priority.”
In a Tweet, Governor Youngkin called the report “an important step towards accountability.”