The Loudoun County school principal said he had never been informed by local law enforcement that a student had been charged with a felony, amid criticism that prompt notification could have prevented a high profile sexual assault.
Amid politically charged allegations of cover-up and malfeasance after two recent sexual assaults at high schools in Loudoun County, Va., Superintendent Scott Ziegler says he never, in his three years with LCPS , was informed by the county sheriff’s office that a minor has been charged with a felony.
Ziegler’s statement comes as the school board attempts to change federal Title IX protocols to give the local school division more leeway to prevent students accused of certain crimes from being transferred to another school.
Ziegler and school board members said they were hampered by federal protocols, which require schools to provide education to an accused student until a criminal investigation is completed.
In an OMPP interview, Loudoun County Sheriff Michael Chapman strongly contested the suggestion that his agency was keeping the school system in the dark and lax in informing the school system of criminal investigations.
“This is completely untrue,” Chapman said, saying that in most cases the school system notifies the sheriff’s department of an incident, which triggers 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 teenager accused in the attack on her daughter was later charged with tampering with another girl, at Broad Run High School, on October 6.
On Monday, a Loudoun County Juvenile Court judge ruled the high school student sexually assaulted his Stone Bridge classmate in May. Much of the prosecution case was based on the testimony of a detective from the sheriff’s office, who interviewed the victim and the suspect separately.
On October 15, after apologizing to the families and students involved, Ziegler acknowledged “we have failed to provide the safe, welcoming and supportive environment that we aspire to provide.”
Two days earlier, Loudoun County Commonwealth lawyer Buta Biberaj had confirmed to OMCP that the assaults were allegedly committed by the same teenager.
In his apology, Ziegler said that while the school system “has complied with our obligations” regarding the sexual assault of students under federal Title IX, he called this process “insufficient” and called for reforms.
On Tuesday, the school board unanimously supported board member Ian Serotkin’s amendment to the board’s legislative agenda, to work on amending Title IX: handling such cases when reported, ”Serotkin told the WTO.
Under Title IX, after reporting a crime to local law enforcement, the process requires a school system to suspend its investigation until the criminal investigation is complete.
LCPS Title IX coordinator, Chief of Staff Mark Smith, was asked by Serotkin about interim measures that can be taken to keep students safe before the investigation is complete.
“Interim measures are on a case-by-case basis, at the discretion of the Title IX coordinator, but they are based on the needs of the complainant,” Smith said. “They must be mutually agreed upon, both by the complainant and the respondent. “
“We have the power to fire a student who threatens the physical safety of the complainant,” Smith said.
However, school officials said expelling or ordering an alternative to learning at school before a Title IX investigation was completed would violate federal law.
While details of the May and October cases allegedly involving the same 15-year-old boy were not discussed, the scrutiny of the school system’s handling of the matter sparked Tuesday’s discussion of the reform. .
The teenager was arrested on July 8 and taken into juvenile detention. However, he was released about three weeks later under electronic surveillance and transferred to Broad Run.
On October 6, the teenager was charged with sexual assault and kidnapping another classmate, leading to scrutiny over the decision to allow the teenager to remain in the general school population.
Last week, WTOP reported that Ziegler sent a brief confidential email to school board members on May 28, stating only that “a student alleged that a student sexually assaulted her in the bathroom” and that the sheriff’s department was investigating.
The board is often notified of major incidents in schools, but rarely gives details or says who is involved during the investigation, as the board may potentially be involved in disciplinary action for students.
Discussing how the school system should be notified that a criminal investigation was completed, Ziegler read the Virginia code which specified that “local law enforcement authorities are to report, and the principal or its delegate and the division superintendent must receive such a report ”.
Serotkin asked Ziegler if this process was generally followed in Loudoun County.
Ziegler’s response was startling: “During my tenure as superintendent, I received no reports of crimes from local law enforcement,” Ziegler said.
Serotkin followed: “Zero?”
“Yes, sir, zero. I did not receive any report at the same time that a student was charged, ”said Ziegler, who was the Title IX coordinator appointed by the school system when he joined LCPS in 2019.
“If the school division is not notified by the sheriff’s office when we are supposed to be, this is of great concern as it hinders our ability to conduct a full Title IX investigation and take appropriate action. to keep our students safe, ”Serotkin told OMCP.
Critics, ranging from local parents to Republican candidate for governor of Virginia, Glenn Youngkin, called for the resignation of Ziegler and the school board, saying principals covered up the assaults and did not take action. measures to protect students.
Chapman said his department has always provided proper notifications. Chapman cited a different Virginia code, which specifies that a court official, known as an admissions officer, “must file a report with the division superintendent.”
“The school was closed in July, which may have explained less in-person contact. In addition, a notification was made to a school official, “in Stone Bridge that the minor had been charged, Chapman said.
A spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice, the statewide entity under which reception officers work, is working to provide details on how this report is typically shared with a superintendent .
The family of the victim of the May 28 incident announced that they would take civil action, claiming the county had failed to protect their daughter,
Looking to the future, Ziegler, Serotkin and the Sheriff’s Office have expressed their willingness to strengthen interim measures to protect victims and students, even as attempts to reform Title IX continue.
During his apology and statement on Oct. 15, Ziegler said he would propose changes to the memorandum of understanding between the school system and the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Department “to ensure that school discipline and criminal investigations can take place simultaneously “.
The Biden administration is currently reviewing Title IX, in a process that will run through May.