Report blasts Virginia schools’ handling of sex assaults

Dec 5, 2022, 2:01 PM | Updated: 4:29 pm

LEESBURG, Va. (AP) — A special grand jury convened at the request of Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has issued a scathing report against a northern Virginia school system accusing it of mishandling a student who sexually assaulted classmates at two different high schools last year.

The grand jury report accuses the Loudoun County Public Schools superintendent of lying to the public to cover up what occurred, and authorities of ignoring multiple warning signs that could have prevented an assault.

“It is our considered judgment that (the second assault) never should have occurred,” the grand jury states in the report. “Had any one of a number of individuals across a variety of entities spoke up … then the sexual assault most likely would not have occurred. But nobody did.”

Youngkin issued an executive order on his first day in office in January requesting an investigation of the school system’s conduct in connection with the assaults. The school system sought to quash the investigation, calling it politically motivated. But the Virginia Supreme Court ruled earlier this year it could move forward.

The school system’s conduct became a major issue in the 2021 gubernatorial campaign, as Youngkin cited Loudoun schools as an example of administrators who placed social justice initiatives above student safety and educational fundamentals.

Youngkin said Monday that he was satisfied with the grand jury’s report.

“Today’s report is an important step towards accountability and I applaud the AG for his initiative,” he said in a tweet.

The assaults received outsize attention because the student who was convicted in both attacks is a biological male who wore a skirt in one of the attacks, playing into a national debate over how schools should treat transgender students and whether they should be allowed to use restrooms different to their biological sex.

The report also accuses school administrators and lawyers of stonewalling the special grand jury’s investigation. The report notes that school board members went out of their way in testimony to describe the assailant’s attire as a kilt rather than a skirt, something the report suggests was a coordinated effort by the school system’s legal team to push a narrative about what occurred.

In a written statement, school board Chair Jeff Morse and Vice Chair Ian Serotkin said they were pleased that no indictments were issued.

“(W)e are pleased that the Special Grand Jury’s extensive investigation found no evidence of criminal conduct on the part of anyone within LCPS,” they said.

The grand jury, though, remains impaneled, and is not barred from issuing indictments in the future.

The school board leaders indicated they would take up the grand jury’s critiques in an upcoming session.

The first assault occurred in a girls’ bathroom stall at Stone Bridge High School in May 2021. The student was charged in juvenile court and barred by court order from returning to Stone Bridge. Administrators then transferred him to nearby Broad Run High School, where the second assault occurred in October 2021.

The grand jury report accuses the school system superintendent, Scott Ziegler, of lying about the assault at a school board meeting in June 2021, after the first assault occurred.

As the school board debated policies governing transgender students and whether they can use the restroom of their preference, a school board member asked Ziegler if the schools had a problem with sexual assaults occurring in bathrooms.

Ziegler responded that “to my knowledge we don’t have any record of assaults in our restrooms.” But emails show that Ziegler had been informed of the Stone Bridge assault and in fact had sent an email to board members informing them of the incident.

The report says teachers at both schools warned administrators of the student’s disturbing conduct weeks before each assault occurred. Even the student’s grandmother spoke up and warned the student’s probation officer, referring to her grandchild as a “sociopath,” according to the report.

Two weeks before the first assault, a teaching assistant wrote an email to another teacher and administrator noting that the boy sat on girls’ laps during study hall “and seems to have a problem with listening and keeping his hands to himself.”

The email resulted in a call to the student’s mother, but the grand jury report shows administrators seemed as concerned with whether the teaching assistant followed proper protocol in reporting her concerns as they were about the student’s conduct.

And the report faults administrators for passing the student off to Broad Run with insufficient communication about the risk he posed. At Broad Run, an art teacher reported to the principal that girls in the class were uncomfortable because the student was following them. Separately, he asked multiple students about posting nude photos online, according to the report.

The only punishment was an admonishment and requiring him to “write on a piece of paper that he would not commit such conduct again,” according to the report.

Attorney General Jason Miyares, whose office conducted the investigation, thanked grand jurors and said he looks “forward to the positive change in LCPS resulting from their work.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Report blasts Virginia schools’ handling of sex assaults