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Judge orders release of report into sexual assaults at two high schools in suburban Washington

A report done by the law firm Blankingship and Keith takes aim at the system’s slow response.

LEESBURG, Va. (CN) — As a school superintendent prepares for trial on misdemeanor charges stemming from the mishandling of two sexual assaults by the same student, Loudoun County judge James Plowman on Thursday ordered release of a redacted version of a report taking issue with the school system's response.

The Loudoun County School System, then led by Scott Ziegler, should have done a threat assessment of the student who raped two students and unduly delayed a Title IX investigation for three months, concluded the report.

Ziegler faces charges of false publication, prohibited conduct and penalizing an employee for a court appearance. He was fired this past December after parental uproar over the handling of the assaults at Stone Bridge High School and Broad Run High School.

The heavily redacted report by attorneys with the law firm Blankingship and Keith details the sexual assaults, focusing on the school system’s obligations under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program or activity that receives federal funding. Sexual harassment under Title IX includes dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking.

According to the report, dated December 2021, the perpetrator told the girl he wanted to “have fun.” She replied, “I’ll meet with you but I’m not promising anything.”  They met in a bathroom underneath the main floor by the stairs. The girl had never been to that bathroom and the perpetrator had to give her directions.

Once in the bathroom, the girl told the perpetrator she was uncomfortable. “The perpetrator flipped [the victim] over, put her face down on the ground and she could not move,” the report said.

She reported the attack to school administrators. Subsequently, a school administrator said he was told by the sheriff’s office that they would handle the investigation. The school system did not investigate the girl’s’ allegation of sexual assault, “believing it was necessary to wait for the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office to complete its investigation,” the report said.

In the interim, the perpetrator was transferred to another school. Blankingship attorneys were asked to examine whether the school system should have conducted a threat assessment of the perpetrator before doing so. “The short answer is yes,” the attorneys wrote, though they added they couldn’t conclude a threat assessment would have prevented the second incident.

But it is also clear from the report that if the school system had promptly investigated, administrators may have gotten a fuller view of the problem presented by this student. The perpetrator’s mother told a detective that her son “feeds off of any attention …negative or positive. And if he finds another troubled kid he [in certain circumstances] uses them as accomplices.” He had been suspended six times in the sixth and seventh grades for fighting, assault (slapping a teacher’s hand) and disrespect.

"Regardless of whether LCPS was certain whether the alleged sexual harassment had occurred, it had notice of alleged misconduct that could meet the definition of sexual harassment. At that point, LCPS had an obligation to respond promptly," the attorneys wrote.

Ziegler and his attorney took no position on the release of the report and did not attend the hearing. This week, Ziegler’s attorney filed a motion to dismiss the case, accusing prosecutors from the Virginia Attorney General’s office of misconduct.

The system’s communications officer, Wayde Byard, was acquitted this year of perjury in connection with a grand jury probe into the matter.

Scott Smith, the father of one of the victims, said the report shows exactly what he expected — that the school system dropped the ball. He is now moving forward with a civil case against the school system.

Categories / Education

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