LOUDOUN COUNTY, Va. (DC News Now) — The former superintendent of Loudoun County Public Schools and its chief spokesman who was placed on leave Monday appeared in court Tuesday following their indictments by a special grand jury.
Dr. Scott Ziegler, whom the Fairfax County School Board voted unanimously to fire on Dec. 6, faces three misdemeanor charges. Wayde Byard, Public Information Officer, faces a felony charge.
The special grand jury conducted an investigation into how a student was able to commit two sexual assaults at two county high schools in less than six months. Among other things, the special grand jury’s report found that administrators, including Ziegler, had several points at which they could have stepped in prior to second assault and changed the outcome, but “they failed at every juncture.”
The special grand jury indicted Ziegler for:
- The special ground jury found that on or about June 22, 2021, Ziegler knowingly provided a statement he knew was false or untrue to someone working in media/communication.
Penalize Employee for Court Appearance
- The special ground jury found that on or about June 7, 2022, Ziegler penalized a school division employee who was summoned or subpoenaed to appear in court, despite the fact that she gave the division reasonable notice.
Conflict of Interest — Prohibited Conduct
- The special grand jury found that on or about June 7, 2022, Ziegler used “his public position to retaliate against” the employee who had the court appearance “for expressing views on matters of public concern or for exercising any right that is otherwise protected by law.”
In the case of Byard, the direct indictment said that on or about Aug. 2, 2022, the school division spokesman lied under oath.
A judge set bond at $1,000 for Ziegler and Byard on Tuesday.
Byard, who said he planned to plead not guilty, will have a two-day trial at some point. Although March 2023 was floated, the judge said a date than might be “a little optimistic.” His next court date was set for Jan. 5, 2023.
After he walked out of the courthouse, Byard made a brief statement to reporters.
“I can’t address any specific charges because neither my attorney nor myself have been given any indication as to what I’ve been alleged to do,” he said.
Ziegler will have two, two-day trials. The tentative dates are May 22-23, 2023 and July 10-11, 2023. In his cases, both sides are supposed to file motions by Jan. 5, 2023, and argue them at the next court appearance scheduled for Jan. 26, 2023.
Shortly after Ziegler and Byard were in court, the Loudoun County School Board held a meeting, discussing — for the first time publicly — the eight recommendations the special grand jury presented in its report.
The eight recommendations are:
- Increasing transparency with parents, staff, students and the community
- Re-examining the transfer process
- Involving the LCPS director of safety and security
- Tightening policies around apps on school-issued devices
- Limiting how much information of public concern is shielded from the community
- Improving communication, cooperation and coordination across agencies
- Strengthening support for faculty and staff who may be faced with these difficult situations
- Putting the recommendation for the non-renewal of a teacher’s contract under a separate agenda, not on the Loudoun County School Board consent agenda
Newly elected Board Member Tiffany Polifko commented on her concerns.
“We have to talk about the elephant in the room, which is the failure of Loudoun County to meet this student’s needs to begin with,” she said. “That needs to be said, and I think as a board we need to have that discussion and we need to understand that changing language in a policy — it’s not even addressing the fact that this student… did need greater services than what Loudoun County was providing him with.”
“Putting a comprehensive plan would at least help us on a path of building the confidence,” Board Member Harris Mahedavi said at the end of the session.
After the discussion, more than 70 people signed up for public comment, many of whom criticized the school district and school board for their actions.
Rene Camp said the board members who served in 2021 should resign “because everyone that was on that board either had the opportunity to stand up or say something.”
“[LCPS] seem to hide things and I’m glad all of this has come out,” Chris Hodges said.
Both Scott and Jess Smith spoke during the public comment portion. They are the parents of one of the sexual assault victims. Scott also spoke outside the courthouse following Ziegler and Byard’s appearances.
“This was a day of reckoning,” he said. “Basically if [the school board members] just stand there and refuse to resign, they’re just hurting our children even further.”