LEESBURG, Va. (CN) — A Virginia jury on Friday convicted suburban Washington superintendent Scott Ziegler of retaliating against a special education teacher by firing her after she charged that school administrators failed to properly address complaints about a student who groped her.
The teacher at the center of the case, Erin Brooks, was in the courtroom and wept as the verdict was read.
The jury acquitted Ziegler of a second count related to the incident -- penalizing an employee for a court appearance. Ziegler's attorney, Erin Harrigan of Gentry Locke, said she would move to dismiss the verdict. Judge Douglas Fleming set the sentencing for Jan. 4. While a misdemeanor, the charge against Ziegler is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a fine of not more than $2,500 or both.
Ziegler first came under fire two years ago after stories surfaced that a student was moved from one high school, where he was accused of rape, to another school, where he was again accused of assault. Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin called for a grand jury investigation and tasked Attorney General Jason Miyares with overseeing the probe. The prosecution was led by special counsel Theo Stamos.
The Brooks case is separate and distinct from the case involving the high school students. But it also involves a woman whose complaints of sexual assault were not taken seriously.
Brooks — then teaching at Rosa Lee Carter Elementary School — testified that administrators failed to adequately respond to her after she complained about a special education student who repeatedly groped her. A colleague contacted Ian Prior, conservative activist and co-founder of Fight for Schools, and told him what was happening. Prior then attended a school board meeting and brought attention to what Brooks and another teacher were enduring.
Prior, who attended the trial but was sequestered as a witness, recalled, "I try to do the right thing. They [Brooks and her colleague] got terminated because of that. That weighs heavily on me." He described the school system as having a culture of retribution and retaliation.
After the verdict was announced, Miyares' office issued a statement declaring that justice had finally been served. "Nearly two years ago, Loudoun County Public Schools and the Loudoun County School Board were thrown into the public spotlight for all the wrong reasons. One of the casualties of their neglect and mismanagement led to the retaliatory firing of a dedicated and caring school teacher. Today, my office brought a measure of justice for Erin Brooks," Miyares said.
Ziegler never took the stand. His attorney contended that Brooks shared information about the troubled student via email. This was denied by the prosecution.
The school's principal, Diane Mackey, and other school officials testified that they had attempted to help Brooks deal with the troubled student. When Mackey realized that the situation was spiraling, she moved the boy to another classroom. Mackey also testified that she was the one who suggested that the system not renew Brooks' contract.
This may not end Brooks' court appearances. She filed a lawsuit earlier this year naming Ziegler as defendant and asking for $1 million in damages. When asked for comment, Brooks referred questions to her attorney.
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