In the midst of politically-charged allegations of coverup and malfeasance after two recent sexual assaults in Loudoun County, Virginia high schools, Superintendent Scott Ziegler says he has never, during his three years with LCPS, been notified by the county sheriff’s office that a juvenile has been charged with a crime.
The declaration from Ziegler comes as the school board attempts to change federal Title IX protocols to provide local school division with more latitude to prevent students accused of certain crimes from being transferred to another school.
Ziegler and school board members have said they have been hampered by the federal protocols, which require schools to provide an education to an accused student until a criminal investigation is completed.
In a WTOP interview, Loudoun County Sheriff Michael Chapman strongly disputed the suggestion his agency was keeping the school system in the dark and was lax in notifying the school system about criminal investigations.
“That’s completely false,” Chapman said, saying in most cases, the school system notifies the sheriff’s department of an incident, which prompts an investigation.
A May 28 assault in a girls bathroom at Stone Bridge High School was not made public until the victim’s father told the Daily Wire that the same teen charged in his daughter’s attack was later charged with groping a different girl, at Broad Run High School, on Oct. 6.
Monday, a Loudoun County juvenile court judge ruled the high school student sexually assaulted his Stone Bridge schoolmate in May. The prosecution’s case was largely based on testimony from a sheriff’s office detective, who interviewed the victim and suspect separately.
On Oct. 15, after an apology to the families and students involved, Ziegler acknowledged “we failed to provide the safe, welcoming and affirming environment that we aspire to provide.”
Two days earlier, Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj confirmed to WTOP that the assaults were allegedly committed by the same teenaged boy.
In his apology, Ziegler said although the school system “complied with our obligations” regarding sexual assault of students under federal Title IX, he called that process ”insufficient” and called for reforms.
Tuesday, the school board unanimously supported board member Ian Serotkin’s amendment to the board’s legislative agenda, to work toward altering Title IX: “To provide greater protections for a victim and the student body, and give more local discretion to the school divisions in how they handle such cases when they’re reported,” Serotkin told WTOP.
Under Title IX, after reporting a crime to local law enforcement, the process calls for a school system to put its investigation on pause until the completion of the criminal investigation.
LCPS’s Title IX Coordinator, chief of staff Mark Smith was asked by Serotkin about the interim steps that can be taken to provide student safety before the investigation is complete.
“Interim measures are case by case, at the discretion of the Title IX Coordinator, but they’re based on the needs of the complainant,” said Smith. “They have to be mutually agreed upon, by both the complainant and the respondent.”
“We do have the authority to remove a student who threatens the physical safety of the complainant,” Smith said.
However, school officials have said expulsion or ordering an alternative to in-school learning before a Title IX investigation is completed would violate the federal statute.
While the specifics of the May and October cases allegedly involving the same now-15-year old boy were not discussed, the scrutiny of the school system’s handling of the matter had prompted Tuesday’s discussion of reform.
The teen was arrested July 8 and held in juvenile detention. However, he was released approximately three weeks later with electronic monitoring and transferred to Broad Run.
On Oct. 6, the teen was charged with sexual battery and abduction of a different schoolmate, prompting scrutiny of the decision to allow the teen to remain in the general school population.
Last week, WTOP reported Ziegler had sent a brief, confidential email to school board members on May 28, stating only that “a female student alleged that a male student sexually assaulted her in the restroom,” and that the sheriff’s department was investigating.
The board is often notified of major incidents at schools, but rarely given specifics or told who is involved during the investigation, because the board may eventually be involved in student disciplinary actions.
In discussing how the school system should be notified that a criminal investigation was completed, Ziegler read from Virginia code that specified “local law-enforcement authorities shall report, and the principal or his designee and the division superintendent shall receive such report.”
Serotkin asked Ziegler if that process was typically followed in Loudoun County.
Ziegler’s response was startling: “In my time as superintendent, I have not received any reports of crimes from local law enforcement,” Ziegler said.
Serotkin followed: “Zero?”
“Yes, sir, zero. I have not received any reports concurrent with the time a student was charged,” said Ziegler, who was the school system’s appointed Title IX coordinator when he joined LCPS in 2019.
“If the school division is not being notified by the sheriff’s office when we’re supposed to be, that’s extremely concerning, because it hampers our ability to conduct a complete Title IX investigation, and to take appropriate actions to keep our student body safe,” Serotkin told WTOP.
Critics, ranging from local parents, to Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin have called for resignations from Ziegler and the school board, claiming the school leaders covered-up the assaults, and failed to take steps to protect students.
Chapman said his department has consistently provided appropriate notifications. Chapman cited a different Virginia code, which specifies a court official, known as an intake officer, “shall file a report with the division superintendent.”
“School was out in July, which may have accounted for less in-person contact. Also, a notification was made to a school official,” at Stone Bridge, in July, that the juvenile had been charged, Chapman said
Greg Davy, public information officer with Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice, the statewide entity under which intake officers work, tells WTOP, in an email: “The notifications required by 16.1-260G of the Code of Virginia are met in the Loudoun District Court Service Unit by mailing a hard copy notification letter to the office of the District Superintendent of Schools.”
The family of the victim in the May 28 incident has announced it will file a civil lawsuit, claiming the county failed to protect their daughter,
Looking to the future, Ziegler, Serotkin, and the sheriff’s office have expressed a willingness to bolster interim measures to protect victims and students, even while the attempts to reform Title IX continue.
During his Oct. 15 apology and statement, Ziegler said he would propose changes to the Memorandum of Understanding between the school system and the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Department “to ensure school discipline and criminal investigations can happen simultaneously.”
The Biden administration is currently reviewing Title IX, in a process that will run through May.
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