Judge dismisses Loudoun County School Board recall cases

The politically charged recall petition cases that sought to remove two Loudoun County, Virginia, school board members have been dismissed.

Judge Thomas Padrick, Jr., a retired judge from the Virginia Beach area, was appointed by the Virginia Supreme Court to hear the cases against school board members Brenda Sheridan, of the Sterling District, and Atoosa Reaser, of the Algonkian District. Earlier, Loudoun County judges had recused themselves without explanation.

On Monday, Padrick sided with special prosecutor Joseph Platania, of Charlottesville, who argued there was insufficient evidence to warrant a removal.

The recall effort, spearheaded in 2021 by a conservative political action group, Fight for Schools, sought to remove Sheridan and Reaser for neglect of duty, misuse of office and incompetence.

In October 2021, Leesburg representative Beth Barts, a first-term board member, announced her resignation, citing threats.

The civil claims against the school board members initially were focused on their participation in private Facebook groups and what critics said were their attempts to limit public involvement during school board meetings. Eventually, the suits included claims the school board’s actions allowed a high school student to sexually assault two female students in two different high schools.

Platania said there was no reasonable factual basis in the petition to establish neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence in the performance of duties. “Merely stating it exists does not make it so,” he wrote.

Platania stood in for Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj, who recused herself in Sheridan’s case, and was replaced in Reaser’s case, to avoid the appearance of impropriety, the judge said.

The criminal investigation continues

The scrutiny of Loudoun County Public Schools became a campaign issue for Gov. Glenn Youngkin and Attorney General Jason Miyares, and focused national attention on so-called “culture wars” in the quickly growing county.

Late last week, the school board sued, seeking a temporary injunction to halt further work by a special grand jury empaneled by Miyares.

In a civil filing Thursday in Loudoun County Circuit Court, the school board said an executive order issued by Youngkin on his first day in office went beyond his legal power, and that the empaneled special grand jury is being used unlawfully.

Executive Order 4 authorizes Miyares to conduct “a full investigation into Loudoun County Public Schools.”

In a statement, after Padrick dismissed the recall efforts championed by Fight for Schools, the group’s Ian Prior said the group will continue to “try and get to the truth of what is happening in Loudoun County Public Schools.”

“There is now a special grand jury investigating many of the very issues that we raised in our removal petitions and there is no better way to get to the truth than that investigation,” Prior said in a statement.

Online court records do not indicate a hearing has been scheduled for the judge to hear arguments for and against a temporary injunction.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

Like WTOP on Facebook and follow WTOP on Twitter and Instagram to engage in conversation about this article and others.

Get breaking news and daily headlines delivered to your email inbox by signing up here.

© 2022 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up