Loudoun Co. superintendent: Sexual assault procedures ‘insufficient’

The superintendent of the Loudoun County, Virginia, public schools apologized on Friday for the school system’s reaction to recent sexual assaults by students and outlined steps he said would improve the system going forward.

“First, let me say to the families and students involved, my heart aches for you,” Dr. Scott Ziegler, Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent, said in a brief statement Friday. “And I am sorry that we failed to provide the safe, welcoming and affirming environment that we aspire to provide. We acknowledge and share your pain and we will continue to offer you support to help your families through this trauma.”

Earlier this week, Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj said that a 15-year-old student who allegedly groped a girl at Broad Run High School last week was on electronic monitoring after being charged with sexually assaulting a young girl in a bathroom at Stone Bridge High School, in Ashburn, in May.

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 … this includes notification from the sheriff’s office to the superintendent and principal when students are charged with serious offenses.”

The superintendent said that although the school system “complied with our obligations” regarding sexual assault of students under federal Title IX, he called that process ”insufficient” and suggested several reforms.

Bill Stanley, the attorney representing the family of the victim, said in a statement that Ziegler’s comments confirmed what the the family already believed, the county’s school board and administration “failed to provide the safe environment” for their child.

“As evidenced by subsequent events and revelations, Loudoun Public Schools have been failing the parents who entrusted them to provide a safe environment for their children every day,” Stanley said. “That trust has irrevocably broken by Loudoun County Public Schools’ actions and inactions.”

Ziegler said he’s spoken with Virginia Education Secretary Atif Qarni and Christian Rhodes in the office of the U.S. Education Secretary to Miguel Cardona, U.S. Education Secretary, about his suggestions, which he’s recommending the School Board put on the legislative agenda.

“Whether or not changes occur,” Ziegler said, “our division’s procedure will emphasize the safety and protection of victims.” He added, “It has become clear that our administrative procedures have not kept pace with the growth we have seen in our county. While informal protocols and school-based autonomy may work in small- and medium-sized school divisions, they simply are not sufficient in a county with 82,000 students.”

Ziegler said one of his top priorities is new alternative placement options for students accused of serious discipline infractions.

He addressed recent reports that the county was being investigated by the Virginia Department of Education for discrepancies in reports of student sexual assault, saying that they didn’t appear to be intentional.

Ziegler said “lack of oversight that existed prior to my tenure also contributed to errors in our state reporting regarding disciplinary incidents in the school. The division inadvertently omitted some information in the past; that is extremely concerning. And we are taking steps to make sure that this process is improved.”

Ziegler was appointed interim superintendent in January; he’s had the permanent job since June.

“In the future,” Ziegler said, “we will report events in real time in our student information system and make corrections if needed following the due-process procedures.”

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

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