Loudoun Co. Public Schools responds to special education teachers’ claims of sexual assault

The Loudoun County Public School system in Virginia is responding to two educators who say they were retaliated against after reporting being sexually assaulted by a student in their classroom.

Erin Brooks, a special-education teacher, and Lauren Vandermuelen, a teacher’s assistant, claim they were repeatedly groped and subjected to “overly sexualized behaviors” by the student, and the teachers said their contracts weren’t renewed after they spoke out.

In a statement Friday, the school system said the student is a non-verbal elementary school student with significant intellectual disabilities whose actions are being mischaracterized. The statement also said the teachers improperly shared students records.

The teachers’ allegations of groping first came to public attention during a March school board meeting, and the teachers repeated their claims in a public school board meeting and an appearance on Fox News this week.

“While we encourage all teachers and students to report any concerns about inappropriate touching or sexual assault to the appropriate authorities, we expect staff to do so in the process laid out in LCPS policy that is consistent with our need to protect the privacy of our students as well,” according to a statement from the school system. “These teachers improperly distributed student records without the consent of the family and without the knowledge of school staff for reasons that are unrelated to their job duties and this profound breach of trust to their students has been addressed appropriately by LCPS.”

In the statement, the school spokesman said LCPS took several steps to address the special education teachers’ concerns, including providing additional training.

“Like many students who are unable to speak, this student often resorts to physical contact when frustrated, and the student has a behavior intervention plan to address this concern,” the statement said. “When the student’s behavior intervention plan is followed, the behavior is minimized, and to mischaracterize a manifestation of a student’s severe disability as sexual assault or abuse is flatly incorrect.”

When the additional training did not resolve the issue, LCPS moved the student to a different class, “where these behaviors subsequently ceased,” according to the statement.

It is exceedingly rare for schools to release this sort of personal detail about a student, but the school system said it had received permission from the student’s family to protect the student and the student’s family from “further mischaracterizations and unwarranted ostracizing.”

“While all allegations of sexual assault and sexual harassment must be investigated appropriately, the privacy of our students must be respected as well,” the statement said. “However, in order to protect this student and their family, it is necessary to address these inaccuracies publicly.”

Vague allegations that teachers were allegedly being inappropriately touched were first brought up in March. Ian Prior, the executive director of the organization Fight For Schools, the group that previously organized a recall effort of school board members, alluded to the allegations during a March 22 public school board meeting.

Then on Tuesday, both teachers spoke publicly at a school board meeting, claiming the school system failed to respond to their concerns and then retaliated against them after the allegations were first raised in that March meeting, including declining to renew their teaching contracts.

At Tuesday’s board meeting, Vandermuelen, who also made an appearance on Fox News this week, identified herself as a sexual assault victim and said the school system declined to renew her contract after she gave testimony to a special grand jury investigating the school system’s handling of two sexual assaults last year in the county’s high schools.

A group called Loudoun Moms has set up a GoFundMe seeking to raise $40,000 for what it called  Vandermuelen’s legal fund.

In her remarks at the school board meeting, Brooks claimed the student exhibited “overly sexualized behaviors,” including fondling, groping, and facial and hand gestures and that the school’s response was “to launch a smear campaign against me and move the student into another classroom.”

She said she too had spoken to the special grand jury.

A statement earlier this week from Superintendent Scott Ziegler made during the school board said LCPS “has neither retaliated against any employee for raising concerns about sexual harassment nor taken any adverse action against anyone for testifying before a special grand jury. Any claim to the contrary is simply untrue.”

The Loudoun school system has come under intense scrutiny for its handling of sexual assaults on its campuses. Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares empaneled a grand jury this spring to investigate how the school system handled sexual assaults in the county’s high schools.

A now-15-year-old was arrested last May in connection with a sexual assault at Stone Bridge High School, and was then transferred to Broad Run High School, where he assaulted another girl months later.

During their 2021 campaigns for office, both Miyares and Gov. Glenn Youngkin alleged LCPS covered up the handling of the sex assaults.

The school system has sought to halt the special grand jury, calling it a “fishing expedition.”

WTOP’s Neal Augenstein contributed to this report.

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Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined WTOP.com as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at Nextgov.com, part of Government Executive Media Group.

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