Virginia family sues school system for $30 million over student’s sexual assault in bathroom

Oct 6, 2023, 3:33 PM | Updated: 4:22 pm

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — A teenager and her parents have filed a $30 million lawsuit against a northern Virginia school system, saying the district failed to adequately investigate and tried to cover up her sexual assault by a male student in a high school bathroom.

The details of the 2021 assault — the attacker was wearing a skirt in a women’s bathroom — made it a flashpoint in the national debate over allowing transgender students to use bathrooms, play sports and go by names and gender pronouns that reflect their gender identity.

Still, the assaults appear to have little to do with the attacker’s gender identity, according to documents filed with the family’s lawsuit. Teachers say he preferred and requested male pronouns, according to a report by a law firm that investigated the assault.

The sexual assault in May was one of two committed by the same student in the school system. The second occurred at another high school in October 2021. The attacker, who was 15 at the time, has been convicted as a juvenile for both crimes.

The family alleges that because Loudoun County Public Schools had been considering a new bathroom policy for transgender students when the assault took place, the superintendent lied to the public to cover up what occurred.

The victim “struggled academically, emotionally and physically for the remainder of the school year” and she “continues to struggle significantly,” according to the complaint filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria.

Dan Adams, a spokesperson for the school system in the wealthy Washington suburbs, said it does not comment on pending legal matters. The Associated Press is not naming the boy or the girls because it generally doesn’t identify underage defendants or victims of sexual assault.

A law firm’s investigation, requested by the school board, found “no evidence that the perpetrator identified as a female or that he wore a skirt or kilt in an effort to gain access to the girls’ bathrooms.”

A policy that expanded access for transgender students to school facilities was not in place at the time of the assault.

The attacker and his victim had agreed to meet in a Stone Bridge High School bathroom before the May assault occurred, according to an investigation conducted by a Loudoun County grand jury.

The attack on another female student that October occurred in an empty classroom at Broad Run High School, according to the grand jury report.

The reports from the grand jury and the law firm had both criticized the school system’s handling of the assaults.

For example, the law firm’s report from December 2021 noted that the school system did not appear to have made “any outreach to victim 1 or her family to check on her.”

Separately, the Loudoun County grand jury had accused the school system’s superintendent of lying to the public to cover up what occurred, and authorities of ignoring multiple warning signs that could have prevented an assault.

Following the May assault, the attacker was charged and barred by court order from returning to Stone Bridge. Administrators then transferred him to nearby Broad Run High School.

The report said teachers at both schools warned administrators of the student’s disturbing conduct weeks before each assault occurred. Even his grandmother warned the student’s probation officer and called him a “sociopath,” according to the report.

The report accused the school system superintendent, Scott Ziegler, of lying about the May assault at a school board meeting in June 2021.

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 sent an email to board members about it.

Ziegler later said he misunderstood the question.

The grand jury’s report accused school administrators and lawyers of stonewalling the special grand jury’s investigation. The report noted that school board members described the assailant’s attire as a kilt rather than a skirt during the first attack, something the report suggests was a coordinated effort by the school system’s legal team to push a narrative about what occurred.

Ziegler was later fired by the school board. He’s facing trial on a misdemeanor charge of false publication, which relates to his statements during the school board meeting.

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Virginia family sues school system for $30 million over student’s sexual assault in bathroom