Loudoun County School Board member calls for swift action from Interim Superintendent
LOUDOUN COUNTY, Va. (7News) — This week the fallout continues from the special grand jury report that showed how Loudoun County school administrators mishandled sexual assaults.
On Tuesday, the Loudoun County School Board will review recommendations from the school’s attorney and the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors are expected to make recommendations to the school board and the school system.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin told 7News that the Loudoun County School Board should undertake a full review of everyone who was involved in the mishandling of sexual assaults at two different schools.
“And take action. That’s what leadership is,” Youngkin told 7News. “On day one I issued this executive order because this needed to be investigated fully because otherwise, I don’t believe the Loudoun County school board would have done anything about it.”
It was an investigation that received backlash from the very beginning.
“I wasn’t surprised by the pushback from Democrats because this is something that in fact is not just an embarrassment, but it suggests that they tried to cover it up,” said Youngkin.
After the special grand jury report was released last Monday, the Loudoun County Board fired Superintendent Scott Ziegler.
“There is more work to be done here and the Loudoun county school board should get on with it and do it,” said Youngkin.
“I was extremely disappointed,” Democratic County Supervisor Kristen Umstattd told 7News on Sunday regarding her reaction as she read the special grand jury report. “Got angrier as I read through the report, because it chronicled incident after incident where the school system and the legal system had failed two young women. And by the end of it, I was not at all happy with what had happened to them or what could happen to others if corrections aren’t made, both within the schools and within the way we handle cases like this in the legal system.”
Supervisor Umstattd is taking look at how the criminal petition got from the juvenile court services unit to the schools.
“We at the Board of Supervisors want to understand the process as to how the criminal petition got from the juvenile court services unit to the schools and why Dr. Ziegler stated that he had not seen it and use that as a reason why the school system had allowed this individual to remain in the school system, transferring him from one school to another but keeping him within the system.”
Umstattd said Dr. Ziegler hung his hat on this excuse for not properly handling the assailant, allowing the student to be transferred to another school where another assault occurred.
“We believe that the court services unit did everything they should have,” Umstattd told 7News. “They are under state control and the state sets their protocols and they follow them and members of that service have said they properly put the petition in the secure mail system used by the schools, by the state, by the county to get it to the schools. We believe it got to the schools. We don’t know what happened over on the school side. It was addressed to the last addressee that the schools had provided to juvenile court services. So the address from the standpoint of the court services unit was correct.”
“But let’s say even if it should have been addressed to someone else. First, the schools had never informed court services of that fact. And secondly, they should have protocols over at Loudoun County school administration to handle all incoming criminal petitions that can have an impact on student safety. And clearly that did not happen once that criminal petition got to the school system,” said Umstattd.
7News asked Supervisor Umstattd if the Loudoun County school board failed in its oversight role.
“Certainly, in this case when it comes to those two young women, they were failed spectacularly,” said Umstattd. “It wasn’t just by the school system. It was also the legal process, the fact that the Commonwealth’s Attorney [Buta Biberaj] was not keeping this individual in custody, where he clearly needed to be. The fact that the judge notified the school system that the individual could not go back to Stonebridge [High School], but didn’t go one step further, which needed to happen, and say he cannot return to the schools.”
“The schools have in system, alternative education programs, where they can put individuals who are potentially a danger to the student population, make sure the individual is educated but is under much stricter supervision,” said Umstattd. “And even in the juvenile detention center, students there can continue with their public education. So there are alternatives that would have kept everybody safe.”
One Loudoun County School Board member is calling on the new interim Superintendent to take swift action this week.
Loudoun County School Board Member Tiffany Polifko wants interim Superintendent Dr. Daniel Smith to the hold other LCPS employees accountable for the issues laid out in the special grand jury report.
“I believe that what we must do is hold accountable any individual who was involved in the fallout with the sexual assaults that occurred regarding any unethical behavior, any irresponsibility, and acting irresponsibly in the wake of the tragedies that occurred,” Polifko told 7News. “What needs to happen is people must be held accountable for their behavior, for their lack of responsibility, and for letting the entire community down in terms of not properly following through with what should have been taken care of.”
Polifko says the problems the Loudoun County school system is dealing with does not end with the firing of Dr. Scott Ziegler.
“We have to have a zero-tolerance policy for this or we simply will not be able to move forward as a community,” Polifko told 7News on Sunday. “I realize what I bring to the table as one of nine, and I’m not afraid to eat by myself. I might hold the unpopular opinion, but we can’t afford to whistle past the graveyard and ignore what’s right in front of us and what people have been crying out about for the last 18 months now.”
“I think it’s also important for me to note that there needs to be, in my personal opinion, there needs to be a message sent to senior staff and to any employee of Loudoun County Public Schools, that if they act unethically, if they display behavior that is clearly flying in the face of the safety of children and they’re abdicating their responsibilities to keep children safe, then that will not be tolerated,” added Polifko.
The Loudoun County school board can hire or fire the Superintendent, but school board members tell 7News the Superintendent is responsible for all other LCPS employees.
“Should more people be held accountable?” said Umstattd. “There probably are people and certainly the special grand jury report indicates there are people who should have known better who should have been more responsible. But you’ve got a whole culture that needs to change- the public schools – and that’s going to be something a job for the superintendent to bring all his principals in, tell them that things have to change that from now on teachers need to be advised if they see something going on at a bathroom stall, they don’t just walk out the door. They make sure everybody’s alright. Security may need to be beefed up at the schools.”
“The Board of Supervisors will need to meet with the school board to find out what we can do when it comes to funding for some security enhancements,” said Umstattd. “But the kind of conduct that went on and on and on and on and the fact that teachers who reported it, were not paid attention to that’s a problem with the systemic culture there and that needs to change. The school board and the new superintendent need to lead the way on that front.”
For the first time since the grand jury report was released, Loudoun County residents will be able to speak at the school board meeting on Tuesday, December 13, 2022.
Umstattd compared what happened in Loudoun County public schools to what happened at Penn State.
“Whenever you have children who put their faith in a system, in a school system or a university system or individuals affiliated with schools or universities, whenever children put their faith in those institutions, every person in those institutions needs to take that seriously and have as their first and foremost duty, the duty to protect the children, both with Penn State and in this case with these two young ladies,” said Umstattd. “That didn’t happen. They were betrayed by the individuals who are supposed to be protecting them. That’s the least we should expect from all of our elected officials, all our appointed officials who work with children, that the children should always be first and foremost in their safety is critically important.”