LOUDOUN COUNTY, Va. — Following a week of unrest, Loudoun County's public school system has a new leader. Chief of Staff Dr. Daniel Smith was appointed the interim superintendent Thursday night, in a 6-1 vote.
Smith replaces Dr. Scott Ziegler, whom the Loudoun County Public Schools board unanimously voted to fire effective immediately after the release of a grand jury report that criticized school officials for the way they handled two sexual assaults by the same student last year. Smith, who has served in his current role since April, said he will work to rebuild public trust.
"I'll seek to be the bridge that will provide the stability and support for our students and staff while making preparations that will allow the next permanent superintendent to devote their efforts to the most important work our schools perform -- that is educating students in a safe, welcoming environment," Smith said.
The LCPS board says it will conduct a nationwide search for a permanent superintendent. It hopes to hire that person by next July.
Though Ziegler's firing came swiftly Tuesday night in a closed door session, some parents said it wasn't soon enough.
"I think it's the right thing to move the county in a direction to start reforming and healing," parent Michael Rivera said.
For more than a year, he and other parent groups have demanded Ziegler's termination over the handling of two high-profile sexual assault cases.
"I didn't think they were going to do it. I think it was reactionary," Rivera said.
This all started in 2021, when a 14-year-old student sexually assaulted a girl at Stone Bridge High School, but transferred to a different school where he sexually assaulted another student.
A special Grand Jury appointed by Attorney General Jason Miyares blasted the school district for allegedly looking out for its own interests instead of students, blaming them for significant shortfalls in communication and cooperation.
"Families of one of the daughters came to them numerous times and they were summarily dismissed," said Phyllis Randall, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair. "What stood out to me was the lack of willingness to brief the school board."
The report says Ziegler lied to the public about not knowing any cases of sexual assault. Ziegler himself later admitted to responding inadequately. Backlash only intensified, and gained national attention.
Randall said more officials should be let go.
"I do think other people should be because other adults were aware," Randall said.
Cheryl Onderchain has daughters who attend one of the schools involved. She said she feels vindicated after months of protest, but wants more out of the district and the school board.
"They really owe the whole community an apology and they should fall on their swords," she said.
Before serving as LCPS chief of staff, Smith was the principal of Lake Braddock Secondary School in Fairfax County. He has served two terms on the Virginia High School League (VHSL) Executive Committee and currently serves on the Board of Directors for Virginia ASCD and the University of Virginia K12 Advisory Council.