More than a year after multiple sexual assaults committed by a Loudoun County Public Schools student on school grounds, a special grand jury slammed school officials, saying they were more interested in safeguarding personal interests than those of the schools or the students. The school system’s superintendent, Scott Ziegler, was fired after a unanimous vote by the school board on Tuesday, reported Loudoun Now.
The pair of incidents, highlighted in the grand jury’s 92-page report published Monday, drew national attention after the student, a teenage male who reportedly wore women’s clothing during a May 2021 attack in a girls’ restroom at Stone Bridge High School, was permitted to transfer to Ashburn’s Broad Run High School, where he sexually assaulted another female student just months later. The boy was subsequently convicted in juvenile court and ordered to undergo treatment and register as a sex offender.
The assaults incited months of intense debates over parents’ rights and public restroom concessions for transgender students, and became a key talking point in Republican Glenn Youngkin’s campaign for governor in 2021. To date, there is no evidence to suggest the student in question is transgender. Additionally, at the time the first assault took place, students in LCPS were required to use restrooms according to their biological sex.
In January, Youngkin and Attorney General Jason Miyares (R) appointed a special grand jury to investigate the school system’s handling of the assaults. The investigation accused school officials of “looking out for their own interests instead of the best interests of LCPS.”
“This invariably led to a stunning lack of openness, transparency, and accountability both to the public and the special grand jury,” the report said, adding that there were several incidents in which LCPS administrators could have taken steps that would have prevented the second assault on October 6, 2021.
“They failed at every juncture,” the report said.
According to the investigation, communication between school administrators and the superintendent, Ziegler, mainly dealt with the father of the first assault victim, who had been denied entry to the school in the immediate aftermath of the attack.
Correspondence between the Stone Bridge principal and the superintendent’s office show that there was discussion about getting a “no trespass letter” against the father. The teen assailant, meanwhile, “was still at-large in the building” during that time, the report said.
Just before 5 p.m. on the same day of the May 2021 assault, the school principal sent an email to the community about what had transpired earlier.
“The email neither mentioned, nor hinted at, the sexual assault that took place in the bathroom, instead focusing on the father of the victim who arrived at the school,” the report found. “This email was drafted by the public information officer and ultimately edited and approved by the superintendent.”
The topic of transgender students using a restroom corresponding to their gender identity arose at a school board meeting the following month. In response to a question at that meeting, Ziegler, who had earlier sent an email to school board members acknowledging the assault, said, “to my knowledge, we don’t have any record of assaults in our restrooms.”
“We believe this statement was a lie,” the report said.
While the report repeatedly cited inadequate responses on the part of school administrators following the first incident, it also details how administrators failed to take preventative measures despite glaring indicators of trouble relating to the male student.
Weeks before the first assault, a teaching assistant told another teacher that the student had “a problem with listening and keeping his hands to himself.”
“If this kind of reckless behavior persists, I wouldn’t want to be held accountable if someone should get hurt,” the assistant wrote on May 12, 2021, just over two weeks before the first attack occurred.
In early September 2021, multiple students at Broad Run High School, where the student was transferred after the first assault, asked to be moved away from him in class after the student reportedly began following them around without consent.
“The art teacher reported these events to the Broad Run principal, who failed to inform the teacher of the connection to the events at SBHS or that the assailant was a recent transfer,” the report said.
Less than a week later, the student was the subject of yet another complaint due to unwanted physical contact.
“The superintendent, deputy superintendent, and superintendent’s chief of staff all learned of this incident and knew it was the same individual who committed the sexual assault at SBHS,” the report found. “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, and a suggestion by the court services unit that a more serious punishment be given, the individual received nothing more than a verbal admonishment for these actions.”
The following month, the student “snatched an unassuming female out of the hallway, abducted her into an empty classroom, nearly asphyxiated her, and sexually assaulted her.”
This incident led to the individual being taken into custody.
Given their findings, the special grand jury asked the Broad Run principal whether he felt any responsibility in the aftermath of the October 2021 assault, “but he did not answer after his attorney objected and mentioned the Fifth Amendment,” the report said.
And while the grand jury condemned senior school administrators for near universal failures, it did not suggest that there was a coordinated cover-up.
Whether criminal charges could result from the grand jury’s investigation remains to be seen, though no indictment recommendations were included in the report.
In multiple tweets Monday, Youngkin criticized the school board for failing “to demand accountability or conduct proper oversight of the superintendent [and] staff,” adding, “Today’s report is an important step towards accountability and I applaud the AG for his initiative.”
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