Loudoun Co. schools tweak Title IX policies in wake of sex assaults

Loudoun County’s School Board has voted to update the Virginia school system’s Title IX policies after criticism of how the school district handled two sexual assault cases in two high schools by the same student.

The process of revising Loudoun County Public Schools’ Title IX policy began in 2020, but was spurred-on by nationwide scrutiny in 2021, after a now-15-year-old boy raped a young girl in a bathroom at Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn last May and assaulted another girl in October in an empty classroom at Broad Run High School.

School board member Ian Serotkin, of the Blue Ridge district, has spearheaded the reworking of the school system’s policies for complying with Title IX — the federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in school, including sexual harassment and sexual assaults.

Back in October, Superintendent Scott Ziegler apologized to the families and students involved, “and I am sorry that we failed to provide the safe, welcoming and affirming environment that we aspire to provide,” he said.

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

The new policy 8035, titled “Title IX, Sex-based discrimination, sexual harassment,” codifies procedures that, in theory, could help prevent future cases in which a student is transferred from one school to another.

“The Title IX Coordinator is responsible for ensuring that once any school or division employee has notice of sex discrimination, sexual harassment, or sexual misconduct … the division takes immediate and appropriate steps to investigate what occurred and takes prompt and effective action to stop the discrimination or harassment, prevent the recurrence, and remedy the effects,” according to the policy.

In addition, the new policy details interim actions that must be taken to protect student safety, even if a Title IX or criminal investigation is still in progress: “If appropriate and regardless of whether a criminal or regulatory investigation regarding the alleged conduct is pending, the school division shall promptly take interim action to maintain a safe and secure learning environment for all students.”

The new policy doesn’t make reference to the pair of sexual assaults last year, but critics have chided Ziegler, and called for the school system to release a report by the law firm Blankingship & Keith PC, which was hired to conduct an independent review. In January, LCPS announced it would not release the report, citing attorney-client privilege.

Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares launched an investigation into the school system’s handling of the assaults the day Gov. Glenn Youngkin was sworn into office.

What school system can do to prevent future assaults

While the “who knew what, and when,” of the two 2021 sexual assaults is still being investigated, the school system’s new Title IX policy includes concrete details on how the Loudoun school system could prevent future assault cases, which in hindsight, are similar in nature to the high-profile assaults.

“Nothing in this policy precludes removing an accused person from the education program or activity on an emergency basis, provided that the division undertakes an individualized safety and risk analysis” and determines that the student poses “an immediate threat to the physical health or safety of any student.”

Once a student is removed from school, the new policy “provides the individual with notice and an opportunity to challenge the decision immediately following the removal,” while the Title IX coordinator continues the investigation.

In addition, the new policy says supportive measures must be available to both the complainant and the accused to allow safe schooling during the investigation.

“Supportive measures may include counseling, extensions or deadlines or other course-related adjustments, modifications of work or class schedules, student escorts, mutual restrictions on contact between the parties, changes in work, class, or extracurricular locations, excused absences, increased security, and monitoring of certain areas of the school grounds,” and other, similar measures.

The school system is increasing funding and focus to enable a student to be placed in an alternative high school, rather than a general population high school.

“Starting in October, we looked at our serious discipline interventions, and how they were moving through the system,” Ziegler told the school board during a January meeting. “We’ve put in a system where a recommendation for long-term suspension” comes from the student’s school.

“The student and their family are afforded a due-process hearing, where both the school and student and their family are allowed to present evidence and have a dialogue with a hearing officer,” Ziegler said. “That hearing officer then has the option to institute the long-term suspension, but to have the long-term suspension served at the North Star School, in an alternative placement.”

In addition, Ziegler said, the school system plans to discuss its Memorandum of Understanding with the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office to see if any tweaks are required.

The now-15-year-old — who was found guilty of two counts of sodomy in the assaults at Stone Bridge and Broad Run high schools — will remain on supervised probation in a locked juvenile treatment facility until his 18th birthday. The teen will not have to register as a sex offender after a juvenile court judge reconsidered her initial ruling.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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