RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A special grand jury investigation into the handling of two sexual assault cases by Loudoun County school officials can proceed, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled Friday.
The school division sought to block the grand jury investigation, which was championed by Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares, by claiming that sovereign immunity protects them from the investigation, which they believed would extend beyond the bounds of criminal activity.
School officials have faced scrutiny over their decision to allow a student who faced a sexual assault charge to attend a different school the following Fall. That student then committed another assault at his new school, and was removed from in-person instruction.
Who Gets to Investigate?
The special grand jury was requested by Governor Glenn Youngkin and convened by Miyares following reports that a 15-year-old boy had assaulted two victims at separate schools, the second after he had already been transferred to another school pending an investigation into the first allegation.
The school division’s opposition to the grand jury rested on Article VIII, Section 7 of the Virginia Constitution. Essentially, the division argued that the potential for politically-motivated overreach by Miyares would erode their authority to manage “supervision of schools.”
The supervision of schools in each school division shall be vested in a school board, to be composed of members selected in the manner, for the term, possessing the qualifications, and to the number provided by law.Article VIII, Section 7 of the Virginia Constitution
But the Virginia Supreme Court rejected that argument, writing, “The fear of, and potential for, investigative overreach by the grand jury does not constitute irreparable harm to the School Board’s authority.”
That decision upholds a lower court ruling issued in July, clearing the way for Miyares to begin requesting subpoenas of school officials.
“As Attorney General, I made a promise to Virginians to investigate what happened last year in Loudoun County,” Miyares wrote in a statement. “In July, I defeated the Loudoun County School Board’s attempt to block the investigation in the trial court. Today, the Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed that victory.”
However, the investigation may still face some sharp limits, especially if Miyares steps beyond the strict bounds of criminal behavior by school officials.
The Virginia Supreme court noted in its decision that, even as the special grand jury proceeds, “persons subject to improper subpoenas can move to quash those subpoenas. Therefore, there are remedies at law were the grand jury to overreach.”
The first incident occurred in May 2021. According to the Washington Post, the female victim had been in a relationship with the 15-year-old male who was eventually charged, but was sexually assaulted by him in the bathroom of Stone bridge High School on May 28.
The student was then transferred to another high school while the investigation was completed, and there assaulted another girl in October 2021.
The case set off a firestorm because the boy was wearing a skirt at the time of the assault. The parents of the first victim, in a civil lawsuit against the school division, said the boy was “gender fluid.”
“The facts are that a male student claiming to be ‘gender fluid’ was permitted to enter the girls’ bathroom on May 28 and sexually assault our daughter,” they said in an October 2021 press release.
However, Loudoun County’s bathroom policy for transgender students was only put in place after the first assault had already occurred, and there has been no indication, either prior to the policy’s enactment or afterwards, that the student convicted of the assaults ever sought permission to use the girl’s restroom.
The parents are represented in their lawsuit by Republican State Senator Bill Stanley, who voted against a law to allow trans students to use the bathroom aligned with their gender in 2020.
Following the assaults, Loudoun County Superintendent Dr. Scott Ziegler apologized, saying, “I am sorry that we failed to provide the safe, welcoming and affirming environment that we aspire to provide.”
He also pushed for reforms to the federal Title IX process, which he said had contributed to the lack of communication between the sheriff’s department and school officials.