Virginia jury acquits school spokesman of perjury in probe that was a focus of governor’s campaign

Jun 22, 2023, 3:36 PM | Updated: 4:24 pm

LEESBURG, Va. (AP) — A jury on Thursday acquitted the longtime spokesman for a northern Virginia school system of perjuring himself during a high-profile investigation of two school-based sexual assaults.

The jury took only about two hours to deliberate before acquitting Loudoun County Public Schools Public Information Office Wayde Byard on the sole perjury count lodged against him by a special grand jury.

The perjury case was the first prosecution to go to trial from the special grand jury’s probe, commissioned by Republican Attorney General Jason Miyares at the request of Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

The grand jury examined the school system’s handling of two sexual assaults at two different high schools in 2021. Youngkin made the assaults a major part of his successful gubernatorial bid that year, and he issued an executive order requesting the investigation on his first day in office.

Youngkin’s critics accused him of exploiting the situation for political gain. The assaults garnered widespread attention not only because the boy who committed the assaults was allowed to transfer to another school after the first attack but also because he was wearing a skirt when he committed the first attack in a school bathroom. At the time the county was considering a policy change to allow transgender students to use the restroom of their choice.

Prosecutors said Byard lied to the special grand jury when he testified he was unaware of the first sexual assault allegation when it occurred at Stone Bridge High School in May 2021. Byard told the grand jury that he only became aware that the allegations involved unwanted sexual contact after the second assault occurred at Broad Run High School in October 2021.

During the three-day trial, prosecutors acknowledged they had no documentary evidence showing that any school official had informed Byard of the first sexual assault investigation. The Stone Bridge principal testified that he told Byard about it in a phone conversation, but on cross-examination the principal struggled to accurately recall some of the details from that day.

In addition, testimony showed that school officials on that day were more focused on the angry response that the victim’s father displayed when he showed up at the school than they were about the alleged assault itself.

Byard’ lawyer, Jennifer Leffler, told jurors that Byard — a well-known figure in the county who holds a cult status of sorts among students because his voice delivers news of snow-related school closures — was made a “fall guy” for the school system in what she said was a politically charged grand jury probe.

Byard, speaking after his acquittal, declined to describe himself as a fall guy but allowed that he was perhaps a “surrogate” for other other administrators.

“I feel like maybe I was a stand-in for other LCPS employees,” said Byard, who has been on unpaid leave since the indictment against him was unsealed in December.

Byard said he always felt he’d be acquitted, and he thanked his wife and lawyer for their support. He reflected on the animosity that has descended on the county as the school system became ground zero at times nationally for debates over hot-button cultural issues like critical race theory and treatment of transgender children.

“I’m not going to put any more quarters in the outrage machine,” he said. “I’m not going to make any incendiary statements. … Because that’s what’s got our community here and our nation here.”

Victoria LaCivita, a spokeswoman for Miyares, issued a statement Thursday after the verdict noting that the judge allowed the case to go to a jury despite multiple motions seeking its dismissal.

“While we are disappointed with the jury’s decision, we’re proud of our team for uncovering the truth and providing answers to concerned Virginia parents,” she said.

Byard said he is uncertain if he will return to his job.

Former LCPS Superintendent Scott Ziegler, the only other individual indicted by the grand jury, goes on trial later this year on misdemeanor charges.

United States News

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Virginia jury acquits school spokesman of perjury in probe that was a focus of governor’s campaign