Damning Grand Jury Report Cuts Through Politics in Loudoun County Student Sex Assault Cases
Facts laid out in grand jury report cut through political acrimony over transgender bathroom policies, parental rights and an activist governor’s role
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School superintendents were indicted almost monthly across America this year with most of the claims against them, including theft, human trafficking and abuse of students, handled by local authorities.
But that wasn’t the case in Loudoun County where former schools chief Scott Ziegler was indicted last week in a high-profile case in which a teen boy assaulted two female classmates months apart — with no warning to the greater school community after the first attack.
This time, it was Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, elected last year on a pledge to empower parents, who spearheaded the investigation into the district’s handling of the case: Acting on his executive order, state Attorney General Jason Miyares impaneled a special grand jury to investigate the school system’s alleged coverup and mishandling of the assaults. Its findings were released earlier this month in a damning report.
Ziegler was fired after the grand jury found he lied to the public about the first incident, which took place in a girl’s bathroom.
The location sparked outrage among those who believed the assault was tied to the district’s decision to allow students to use the bathroom of their choosing rather than the one that corresponds with their sex assigned at birth. The attacker was wearing a kilt at the time. Despite early rumors, his mother has said he is not transgender and the bathroom policy did not go into effect until long after the first assault.
Both Ziegler and the district spokesperson were criminally charged with the former superintendent facing multiple misdemeanors, including false publication, and his colleague, Wayde Byard, accused of felony perjury. Ziegler was also charged in connection with a special education teacher who said the district failed to take action after she complained of being repeatedly sexually assaulted by a student and then retaliated against her for speaking out.
Ziegler, in a statement to The Washington Post last week, spoke about the grand jury investigation being politically motivated and said, “I am disappointed that an Attorney General-controlled, secret, and one-sided process — which never once sought my testimony — has made such false and irresponsible accusations. I will vigorously defend myself. I look forward to a time when the truth becomes public.”
Youngkin’s intervention, while unusual, is no surprise. Conservative parents in Loudoun County, riled by the district’s COVID policies, teachings about systemic racism and alleged sexualization of children through LGBTQ literature, have been among the most vocal in the country since the pandemic began. Youngkin capitalized on that during his campaign and came through with his promise to give parents statewide a greater say in the goings-on at their children’s school — starting with Loudoun County.
After the grand jury report was released, Youngkin addressed the backlash to his direct role in setting the investigation into motion.
“I do believe that part of my job as governor is to make the decisions to shine light on circumstances like this,” he told ABC7News. “And at the end of the day, we were going to … make sure that the facts were clear, and that those that had, in fact, violated their duty would be held accountable. And that’s exactly what happened.”
The grand jury’s recounting of the case seemed to shed more light on the disturbing series of events than the political heat they generated.
The offender, just 14 years old at the time of the first attack on May 28, 2021, arranged to meet a classmate in the bathroom for a consensual encounter only to forcibly sodomize her. The victim’s father, who drove to campus soon after, was chastised by school officials for causing a ruckus at the front office. Administrators alerted parents to his behavior that day — not to the sexual assault.
Even worse, parents said, school officials were warned more than two weeks earlier about the boy’s troubling behavior: A teaching assistant, writing to a superior at Stone Bridge High School about his infractions, ended with, “I wouldn’t want to be held accountable if someone should get hurt,” the grand jury found.
Parents were even more enraged by what came next: The boy was merely transferred to another school — rather than placed in a more secure setting — where he sexually assaulted and nearly asphyxiated another girl at his new campus on October 6, 2021.
The grand jury blamed the district for the second assault, attributing it to a “remarkable lack of curiosity” and “adherence to operating in silos.” Among the more surprising revelations: A special education teaching assistant walked into the bathroom during the first assault, saw two sets of feet in one of the stalls and did nothing about it.
The report also noted a June 22, 2021, school board meeting in which the superintendent said, in response to a question, “to my knowledge, we don’t have any records of assaults occurring in our restrooms.” He was lying, the grand jury found: He and other school staff had already discussed the offense. Ziegler has said he thought he was being asked if they had records of any transgender or gender-fluid students assaulting other students in school bathrooms.
And there was a lead up, too, to the second assault. On Sept. 9, the boy grabbed a girl aggressively, tapped her head with a pencil and asked if she posted nude photos online. He asked another boy in his class “if his grandmothers’ nudes were posted online,” according to the report.
The superintendent, deputy superintendent and chief of staff were alerted to these incidents and knew this was the same boy involved in the earlier assault, the grand jury reported.
“Despite having a 12-page disciplinary file, wearing an ankle monitor, being closely monitored by the Broad Run principal, knowledge of this incident by the highest administrators in LCPS … the individual received nothing more than a verbal admonishment,” they wrote.
A juvenile court judge found sufficient evidence to sustain the charges in the first assault in October 2021 and the teen pleaded no contest to the charges in the second assault a month later. The judge sentenced him in January 2022 to receive treatment, counseling and full rehabilitation at a locked residential facility until he turns 18, noting, “This one scares me.”
Erin Poe, who has three sons in the district, said she was devastated upon learning the scope of school administrators’ dishonesty and ineptitude.
“I cannot imagine what this has done to the girls’ lives,” she said, adding she laments the district’s “unconscionable” decision to hide this news from families and move the offending student to another campus. “The entire situation was handled so poorly, from the victims to the child who committed these acts. All the way around, things need to change.”
Poe, co-founder of Army of Parents, an activist group, told The 74 she’s grateful for the Republican governor’s intervention: She voted for Youngkin and hopes he’ll help expose the district’s wrongdoings.
“I was happy to see Youngkin was going to make Loudoun County an example,” she said, adding his involvement, “would make it harder for them to do things the way they want — rather than the way it should be handled.”
But Daniel Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, said Youngkin’s role has gone “above and beyond.” He said the investigation into the district’s handling of the case could have happened without him.
“I think it’s just part of his politics to continue to come across as the champion of education in Virginia — and a champion of parents’ rights,” said Domenech, who lives in Virginia and has closely watched Youngkin’s ascent and the scandal plaguing the Loudoun schools.
He said both Youngkin and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — alongside Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who punished schools for mandating masks during the pandemic — are “out of line.”
He cited DeSantis for removing board members from Broward County schools this summer after a grand jury accused them of deceit and incompetence related to their role in managing a campus security program. DeSantis ordered the grand jury to investigate the district after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in 2018.
That probe also resulted in the 2021 indictment on felony perjury charges of former Broward County schools Superintendent Robert Runcie, a longtime political target of the hardline governor. Runcie has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.
“DeSantis has gotten himself involved in education to a level we have never seen,” Domenech said. “He’s, in a number of school districts, removed board members, appointed board members — which is really a local election process. I’ve been in this business for 55 years and have never seen anything like this.”
In Loudoun County, the parents of the second victim had little use for school leadership across the board, according to a statement they issued after the release of the grand jury’s report.
“The senior leaders at both high schools, along with the Loudoun County Public Schools and the School Board members, should be reminded that our fifteen-year-old daughter displayed more courage and leadership when she reported what happened to her to the Sheriff’s Resource Officer than any of them ever did,” they said. “The ineptitude of all involved is staggering.”
Disclosure: Andy Rotherham is a member of the Virginia Board of Education and sits on The 74’s board of directors. He played no role in the reporting or editing of this story.
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