LOUDOUN COUNTY, Va. — A much-anticipated report investigating Loudoun County Public Schools slammed the district Monday after exposing details of two sexual assaults on school grounds in May and October 2021, along with officials' lacking responses. Despite the significant shortfalls in communication and cooperation that the report cited, it ultimately concluded there was no evidence of a coordinated coverup.
The fallout over the assaults went on to ignite intense community backlash and rowdy school board meetings, as well as a national political firestorm that ultimately became a central talking point in the Virginia governor's race.
The report was released as a result of Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s Executive Order 4, issued on his Jan. 15 Inauguration Day, which requested the Attorney General to conduct a full investigation into the school district. In order to complete the report, Loudoun County residents were randomly selected to serve as jurors.
The grand jury -- which the county school board requested to disband, but a judge ultimately overruled, followed by the Virginia Supreme Court -- stated that LCPS administrators were looking out for their own best interests instead of the best interests of the school community.
"This invariably led to a stunning lack of openness, transparency and accountability, both to the public and the grand jury," the report states, specifying that jurors heard testimony from more than 40 witnesses and reviewed more than 100 pieces of evidence in order to come to their conclusions.
"There were several decision points for senior LCPS administrators, up to and including the superintendent, to be transparent and step in and alter the sequence of events leading up to the October 6, 2021 BRHS [Broad Run High School] sexual assault," the report goes on to say.
"They failed at every juncture."
Although there was some failure acknowledged by the grand jury, they went on to specify that they concluded: "there was not a coordinated cover-up between LCPS administrators and members of the LCSB."
The report continued: "Indeed, except for the May 28, 2021 email from the superintendent, the LCSB, both as a body and its individual members, were deliberately deprived of information regarding these incidents until after the October 6, 2021 sexual assault - and even then they learned not from the superintendent's office but instead from public reporting that the assailant was the same one from the May 28 incident."
The Loudoun County School Board leadership put out a statement shortly after the report was released sharing that they are pleased that the special grand jury found no evidence of criminal conduct on the part of anyone within LCPS, and that "not a single indictment was filed as a result of this lengthy process."
"In a news release on January 15, 2022, Attorney General Miyares alleged that LCPS 'covered up a sexual assault on school grounds for political gain.' To the best of our knowledge, this allegation was not true, and, after conducting an eight-month investigative process, during which it had the ability to interview any LCPS employee, Board member, and any other individuals beyond the LCPS community it deemed relevant, and during which it had access to virtually any LCPS record that was not otherwise legally privileged, the Special Grand Jury neither cited any evidence to support this serious allegation nor made any such conclusion in its Report," the school board statement reads.
"This broad use of the special grand jury investigative process did, however, yield a Report that contains several criticisms of LCPS employees and processes within the Division that are quite serious. We are placing this on our next Board agenda for immediate discussion to reflect on these recommendations and take action as determined by the full Board."
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According to the governor, in the spring of 2021, the Loudoun County School Board and the administration of the Loudoun County Public Schools were made aware of a sexual assault that occurred in a Loudoun County high school. As a result, a decision was made to transfer the assailant to another Loudoun County high school, where the student went on to commit a second sexual assault.
"The Loudoun County School Board and school administrators withheld key details and knowingly lied to parents about the assaults," the governor stated in his order. "Neither the Loudoun County School Board, nor the administrators of the Loudoun County school system, have been held accountable for deceiving the very Virginians they serve. Virginia parents deserve answers and assurances that the safety of their children will never be compromised."
The perpetrator, who was 14 at the time of the initial assault in May, has since been sentenced to complete a sex offender in-patient program and was placed on supervised probation until his 18th birthday, according to the Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney. Initially, a judge said the teen would be required to register as a sex offender, but that ruling was eventually reversed.
"Despite having a twelve-page disciplinary file, wearing an ankle monitor, being closely monitored by the Broad Run principal, knowledge of this incident by the highest administrators in LCPS and a suggestion by the court services unit that a more serious punishment be given, the individual received nothing more than a verbal admonishment for these actions," the report said of the school's response to the allegations before the teen pled guilty.
In addition, as the boy was released from custody and prepared to transfer to the second LCPS school, the boy's grandmother called the probation officer just to "make sure [he knew] how bad things were" -- also calling her grandson a "sociopath," saying he "does not care about consequences" after spending two weeks with him.
The report also states that the mother of the assailant pleaded with the probation officer that she had been begging for help from the schools for years, only to have them: "...enable [his] manipulative capabilities by siding with him and trying to be the fair and neutral party, often discounting my approach and recommendations with respect to his reasoning and actions. Only after his actions escalated to concerning levels did they choose to listen and incorporate my input."
Previously, the district's superintendent acknowledged that their handling of the situation was inadequate.
"I want to acknowledge that our processes and procedures were not adequate to respond to these recent events," Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Scott Ziegler said in October 2021. "It has become clear that our administrative procedures have not kept pace with the growth we have seen in our county."
While the report is now public, Miyares said the grand jury's work is not over, calling it merely the first step to "providing much needed accountability and transparency."
"Our office is going to continue to review the report and make decisions at the appropriate time," Miyares said. “This special grand jury was the epitome of professionalism. In the face of intense public speculation, the members were incredibly engaged, worked tirelessly, and spent countless days away from their families and jobs to conduct a thorough investigation into Loudoun County Public Schools. I encourage everyone to read their report, and look forward to the positive change in LCPS resulting from their work."
Scott Smith is the father of one of the assault victims. He said the report is just validation of what his family has been saying all along.
"Our children are in danger," said Smith. "There should be indictments.
But no indictments came with the report, instead the report details eight recommendations moving forward in the school district, which they listed in the report in no particular order.
"In order for change to happen, it needs to be more than a recommendation," said Smith. "People need to lose their jobs over this. People need to be held accountable."
Further rationale and discussion are detailed in the full report.
To increase transparency and foster better communication, LCPS should include as much information as reasonably possible when informing parents, staff, students, and the community about significant incidents occurring on school property, on a school bus, or at a school-sponsored event.
LCPS should take steps to re-examine its transfer process. A formalized protocol needs to be established requiring more vigorous cooperation and communication between, not only the two principals involved, but also, LCPS administration, assistant principals, faculty, SROS, and when relevant, the commonwealth's attorney's office, juvenile court authorities, and the LCSO.
The LCPS director of safety and security needs to be more involved in situations that threaten the safety and security of students, faculty, and staff. Rationale and Discussion:
LCSB should tighten policies regarding the types of apps available to students to download on their school-issued devices and should review how Gaggle [a "proactive digital safety tool for K-12 school districts"] alerts administrators and law enforcement about possible threats to students, faculty, and staff.
The elected members of the LCSB should limit the degree to which legitimate matters and information of public concern are shielded from the public under the cloak of the attorney-client privilege.
Communication, cooperation, and coordination across agencies must be improved when addressing issues of criminal conduct by students, faculty, and staff.
Strengthen avenues of support and advocacy for faculty and staff confronted with challenging scenarios that could pose a danger and/or impede learning.
The superintendent's recommendation for the non-renewal of a teacher's contract should be the subject of a separate agenda item and not placed on the LCSB consent agenda.
"We appreciate the time and interest the Special Grand Jury dedicated to this tragic event that was the cause of considerable harm to the victims," Loudoun County Commonwealth Attorney Buta Biberaj wrote in a statement after the release of the report. "As the Special Grand Jury determined, the information shared was at times sparse, incomplete, or untimely. These limitations are detrimental to the expediency of the administration of justice. The lesson that we should take away is that we can’t continue to operate in silos when the safety of our children, or anyone in the community, is at stake. We invite all the involved entities to come together and move forward towards developing comprehensive responses to such matters. We stand ready and willing to work with our community partners to establish a 'formalized protocol emphasizing better communication' as recommended by the Grand Jury."
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