Parents, Students Press for Reform in Schools’ Handling of Sexual Assaults

Photos of Loudoun County father Scott Smith being led away bloodied and in handcuffs made national news when the June 22 School Board meeting erupted into chaos amid the culture war protests of parents battling then-proposed transgender protections and fears about Critical Race Theory. The boardroom was cleared after Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) determined the crowd was too rowdy to continue with public comment.

But, Smith said, amid the high-profile battle between conservative and progressive parents playing out in the boardroom, his altercation and ultimate arrest had little to do with the School Board’s agenda for the meeting.

Smith, a Leesburg-based plumber, was attending his first School Board meeting with his wife, Jess. Less than a month prior, on May 28, the Smiths say their daughter was sexually assaulted in her Stone Bridge High School bathroom by a fellow student.

“I went at the spur of the moment after I finished up a work job down the street, to go see the circus I’ve been seeing on the news. We weren’t going to protest or anything,” Smith said.

Smith said the student who assaulted his daughter is male and identifies as gender-fluid. And he said he was provoked during a meeting by a woman he knew personally, who made comments about his daughter, discounting the alleged assault. Deputies attempted to restrain Smith, and he was dragged to the floor.

Smith was later charged with two misdemeanors and convicted by Judge Thomas J. Kelley. He was sentenced to 10 days in jail, all suspended, contingent on a year of good behavior. His attorney, Elizabeth Lancaster, argued for a moderate fine and no jail time, pointing to Smith’s largely clean record, his long residency as a small business owner in Leesburg, and his anger about the assault of his daughter. Smith is appealing the verdict to the Circuit Court, where a jury trial is scheduled for March 12, 2022.

After another sexual assault was reported last week, this time at Broad Run High School, Smith decided to speak out.According to the report on the incident, on the afternoon of Wednesday, Oct. 6, the 15-year-old suspect forced the victim into an empty classroom where he held a student against her will and inappropriately touched her.The victim immediately reported the incident to a School Resource Officer. The suspect was charged with sexual battery and abduction.

During the public comment session of Tuesday’s School Board meeting, dozens of parents alleged that the assailant from the Broad Run report was the same as from the Stone Bridge incident. Parents charged that administrators allowed the student to transfer within the district after the incident, putting students at a new school at risk.

“What are you doing to protect my daughters and every LCPS student from being sexually assaulted at school?” one mother said. “You allowed a student who is currently charged with sexually assaulting a girl to be quietly transferred to another school. The same high school my twin daughters attend…Why did you put my daughters in every 14- to 18-year-old girl at Broad Run at risk of being sexually assaulted?”

“Your moral compasses are busted. You Dr. Ziegler and our School Board, everyone of you, are complicit in these crimes against our children,” Carrie Michon said.

District spokesman Wayde Byard said neither he nor School Board members could comment on the alleged assaults. Although doing so would not risk revealing any students’ identities, Byard also said the district could neither confirm nor deny that the assailant was the same student in both incidents.

The Sheriff’s Office did not release any information about the cases, citing Virginia code the seals cases involving minors.

After the second alleged assault, Smith said he decided to speak out about the process he said he and his wife have endured since the incident with their daughter. Smith said the school called him in after their daughter reported the assualt, giving little information about what had transpired.

“The day of the incident, the [School Resource Officer] and the principal made it very clear that they had to do their investigation and that we weren’t to talk about anything. … The school counselor was in the room with my wife and daughter and told my daughter and my wife they’re not supposed to talk about anything,” Smith said.

The principal continued to ask Smith questions, he said.

“I just kept saying ‘no, this is not acceptable, where’s the police? Where’s the ambulance?’” Smith said.

He said grew frustrated that the school resource officer, a deputy assigned to the school, was not providing the answers Smith was looking for. Still, to this day, the Smiths say that they don’t have clarity on the investigation.

“The school said it was handed off to the Sheriff’s Office, and they don’t know what is going on. My wife has done so much. … She’s tried to get paperwork and restraining orders. It’s a mess,” Smith said.

The school district said much of the LCPS response protocol is dictated by law enforcement agencies, and the administrators must not intervene in such investigations. The school district did not comment on the specific incident.

The Sheriff’s Office confirmed that a two-month investigation was conducted of the alleged assault and a case remains pending in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, although no details were shared.

Empowering Students

Concerns about the school division’s handling of assaults also is a concern of a group of Woodgrove High School alumni who say they experienced sexual assault, harassment, or violence during their years at the school. They are working to change the culture at their alma mater to protect current and future students with their organization, Be Better Woodgrove.

Four young professionals dispersed throughout the country found themselves once again back in their hometown of Purcellville during the pandemic. During that time, anonymized accusations of sexual assault began to surface on popular twitter accounts, and the group of friends was struck to see a pattern of Woodgrove alumni sited as assailants on the pages. Seeing those accusations, they said, was a time warp to their own traumatic experiences, which, they realized, were emblematic of larger problem not just at their high school, but perhaps at schools everywhere.

One of the organizers said she was sexually assaulted by student off campus when she was a freshman. When rumors of the incident reached administrators, the victim was questioned in what she described as an interrogatory way. As a 15-year-old, she said, she didn’t have the vocabulary or understanding to articulate to the administrators that she had been assaulted. The incident was never followed up on after the initial investigation.

“If you don’t tell me anything, I can’t help you,” she remembers the school counselor telling her before dismissing her.

She said she wishes to empower and inform youth to know when they’ve been assaulted or harassed, and what kind of reconciliation they’re entitled to.

“Reliving those experiences just felt really lonely,” one of the group’s organizers said. “We knew we had to do something.”

The women crafted and shared a survey for current Woodgrove students and alumni across social media, asking about adverse experiences, harassment, and sexual assault.

“We released it without any real intention,” one of the organizers said.

Within 10 days, they’d received over 300 responses. The results, they said, were startling: 82.5% of the respondents felt that not enough is done to prevent sexual harassment and assault at the school. Of the respondents who went to the administration for help, nearly 90% felt that not enough action was taken in response to their experiences.

School districts are required to provide Virginia Department of Education statistics on incidents that are reported in schools. The VDOE reporting database only goes back to incidents that occurred during the 2016-2017 school year. There were fewer than 10 sexual assault and harassment incidents reported in Loudoun schools during both the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 school years. There are no reported incidents from the other years.

The women launched the website for Be Better Woodgrove and sought guidance from groups including Know Your IX, which empowers students to stop sexual violence and educates on rights under Title IX, the Loudoun Abused Women Shelter (LAWS), and the Virginia Action Alliance.

While groups such as LAWS provide informational programing in schools to teach about consent and healthy relationships, Executive Director Judy Hanley and the BeBetter Woodgroveteam agree that such resources aren’t abundantly available.

“It’s not as coordinated as we would probably like. Our community is growing so quickly that it is often difficult to keep up with all of the schools,” Hanley said.

The group created a list of demands for Woodgrove, ranging from implementing sexual education measures for students, to doing away with coerced mediated conversations between victims and assailants.

The group engaged in a series of meetings with school administrators, and met with School Board member Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridge). While the group members felt supported by Serotkin, the meetings with administrators, they said, were not productive for BeBetter Woodgrove. The organizers said administrators spent most of the meetings discussing current sexual assault response protocols, without giving sufficient consideration to the group’s experiences and demands.

“Those meetings were about 80% listening to the administrators,” a BeBetter Woodgrovemember said.

The school district said that the group worked to inform the revisions of Policy 8270, the student dress code, and Policy 8035, dealing with sexual discrimination and assault. BeBetter Woodgrove, though, said that the group wasn’t asked to assist in writing policies.

Serotkin, who is on the School Board’s Discipline Committee, said that BeBetter Woodgrove’scause hits close to home.

“It’s personal for me because Woodgrove is where my kids will go to high school in a couple years. I look out my back window and I see the school every day,” Serotkin said. “The members of the Be Better Woodgrove community, some of them are neighbors, and friends, so it is personal for me. So, I really take it seriously and have done my best to take their input on informing our policies.”

The group remains frustrated on the districtwide front. Wayde Byard, the district’s spokesperson, said that LCPS has already met most of the group’s list of demands. The group demands an apology “reflecting on past errors in addressing sexual assault and harassment and holding themselves accountable for change,” according to their website.

“Be Better Woodgrove has never revealed the specifics of the supposed errors by staff, which makes the need for such an apology unclear,” Byard said.

In their meetings with administrators, the group kept most accounts of harassment and assault anonymized to protect their survey respondents, many of whom are current Woodgrove students. The apology, the organizers would say, would represent an acknowledgement of the culture at the school and a commitment to changing it.

“If you make students feel more comfortable, you’re going to make it a healthier environment overall,” one of the women said.

Be Better Woodgrovealso is pressing the school division to make students more aware of their Title IX rights and how to report violations, including adding that information to the student handbook; and to develop asurvivor-centered response protocol to prevent subjecting students to uncomfortable interrogative conversations with authority figures after an incident.

Be Better Woodgrovelaunched anInstagram accountto inform current students about their rights, sexual assault awareness, and the LCPS reporting process. The group also recommends that students and parents familiarize themselves withthe Loudoun County Abused Women’s Shelter.

Hanley said students need to be informed about issues such as sexual assault and consent early.

“In the past, we have waited until high school to teach about these things, but it really needs to start in elementary school,” Hanley said. “I think working with community partners to make sure the prevention information is provided, as well as beefing up their Title IX enforcement will also help by educating people what Title IX is.”

25 thoughts on “Parents, Students Press for Reform in Schools’ Handling of Sexual Assaults

  • 2021-10-13 at 11:06 am
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    Just remember…Terry Mcauliife (D) emphatically believes that parents should keep their noses out of schools.
    And Loudoun’s School Board would like the FBI to investigate parents for domestic terrorism under the PATRIOT Act.

    Since LCSO is responsible for providing security at Loudoun’s schools, they’ve got some explaining to do.

    If a sexual predator is being protected by the LCPS, then HEADS NEED TO ROLL. And I don’t mean promotions, bonuses and paid time off for those involved.

  • 2021-10-13 at 11:07 am
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    I feel for Mr. Smith, he is dealing with a very dishonest organization. There was never an explanation concerning the events detailed in the Maret Investigation. Apparently, no County Official wants to hold the school board, the County Attorney’s Office or Child Protection Service Accountable. As far as the Maret Investigation CPS and the County Attorney’s Office new of the problems in 2017 but did nothing. The pattern seems to be repeating here.

    If you read this Mr. Smith, this is what you are dealing with. This is not a one-off, this kind of behavior by those in charge is the norm. Write the Governor and other State Officials shine as much as light as you possibly can on this.

  • 2021-10-13 at 11:21 am
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    Thanks for finally doing an article on this. But I think you missed an important aspect of the story.

    Why was the Commonwealth’s Attorney, Buta Biberaj, personally overseeing the prosecution of Mr. Smith for the school board meeting incident? The CA showed up to prosecute a misdemeanor, and requested jail time for Mr. Smith?

    The same CA that ran on and has continued with a radical commitment to not jailing people for minor crimes and avoiding criminal convictions altogether when possible. Why has she stopped prosecuting many other misdemeanors, who even released a domestic abuser that later killed his wife, but personally prosecuted Mr. Smith? The same CA that was part of the infamous FB group.

    This is an important aspect of this story, and I urge you to address this as well.

  • 2021-10-13 at 11:22 am
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    Thank you Loudoun Now for shining a light on this situation. Unfortunately, there’s a frenzied mob calling for the resignation of Dr. Ziegler. Apparently, they take as gospel truth any old thing written in the media. Sadly, a rush to judgment is going on. I appreciate this newspaper’s efforts to report the available facts in an accurate & fair manner.

    • 2021-10-13 at 2:12 pm
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      How many rapes in school bathrooms can Mr. Ziegler’s policies cause before his resignation is warranted? I certainly want to know and I bet others want to know as well.

  • 2021-10-13 at 12:42 pm
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    Scott Smith, hang in there. This how situation is the circus you wanted to see.

    Zeigler lied to the public and could have made a general comment on your daughters situation. Instead he lied and they then made you the goat.

    Why on earth did Buta take the case personally when she also knew the truth. Don’t say she was not aware because the CA always knows when there is a case like this. Buta knew as well and used the power of the state for personal reasons. She needs to go.

    I think the jury trial is a good thing as the people in this county know it could be them next.

    Stay strong

  • 2021-10-13 at 1:05 pm
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    Education Court can now add “sexual predator enabler” to their list of accomplishments.

  • 2021-10-13 at 1:48 pm
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    Just remember…Terry Mcauliife (D) emphatically believes that parents should keep their noses out of schools.
    And Loudoun’s School Board would like the FBI to investigate parents for domestic terrorism under the PATRIOT Act.

  • 2021-10-13 at 2:05 pm
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    I can’t imagine any juror selected for Smith’s Circuit Court trial would vote to convict him of anything other than using common sense.

  • 2021-10-13 at 5:04 pm
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    Thank you, Loudoun Now, for reporting this. As a parent with a Daughter at Woodgrove HS, I am also very concerned. Mr. Smith, you and your family are in our prayers.
    How was this Rapist allowed back into school?
    Uh Oh, I asked a question as a concerned parent about protecting my daughter. Am I a terrorist now?
    All we’re asking for is protection for our children in school. I think we can call agree on that. Can we all agree that protecting a sexual predator is terrible? Can we agree that there must be some accountability?
    “Your moral compasses are busted. You Dr. Ziegler and our School Board, every one of you, are complicit in these crimes against our children.”
    I cannot find a more articulate way of saying it.

  • 2021-10-13 at 6:16 pm
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    I was wondering if any of the Loudoun papers were going to pick up this story. The Daily Wire and Fox News already reported this story. So School Board your cover is blown, again. If this was my daughter there are some folks that would be looking over their shoulder.

  • 2021-10-13 at 6:45 pm
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    LCPS is just a bunch of scumbags. We should be arresting the administrators, not the parents.

    But, don’t forget, this is happening because Democrats like Wendy Gooditis voted for the trans-gender garbage. How many times did we folks on the Right say this kind sexual assault was going to happen with these bathrooms?! Democrats said it would never happen and it happened right out of the gate. Punish Democrats at the polls.

  • 2021-10-13 at 8:10 pm
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    “Apparently, they take as gospel truth any old thing written in the media. Sadly, a rush to judgment is going on.”
    Hey Tim Smith. Catch up with the rest of us. LCPS is covering up two assaults in the girls bathroom. Ziegler is leading the cover-up.
    We have another Smith in this story, Scott, whose daughter was one of the two. The school board shut him down before the vote to allow boys in the girls bathrooms. Are you following this?

    Ziegler and the entire school board should all RESIGN. Our children are in jeopardy. They are not safe in the schools we paid for.

    These radical nuts have decided to cut out parent input and oversight while enlisting the FBI to declare concerned parents as domestic terrorists. The should scare the heck out of all of us.

    Ziegler and the school board are terrorizing school kids on a daily basis.

    Glad LN had the gumption to publish this story.

  • 2021-10-14 at 11:15 am
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    Shifty Sheriff Mike Chapman put out a CYA press release with the following “facts” as to why he did not notify the public about a sexual assault/rape at a school for so long:
    1) It was a complicated investigation
    2) Suspect and victim knew each other
    3) It could have identified a victim

    Yet later, when the same suspect attacked another student, a press release was done immediately. in that situation, Sheriff Chapman cited: 1) The case was not complicated 2) The arrest was immediate 3) It was unlikely to identify the victim.
    This is nonsense. If the first incident (forced rape) was investigated the way it should have been, i.e., SANE exam, Special Victim Unit assigned immediately, victim interview done, suspect identified, physical evidence gathered, etc. an arrest would/should have been made quickly. Lab results would follow later. It’s standard procedure. Nothing too complicated about that.

    “The victim and suspect knew each other”…so what? Plenty of criminals know their victims. Family Court is full of them.

    Possibly identify the victim in a sexual assault? If that was the logic behind the first incident, why would it be different in the second sexual assault?

    This is classic Sheriff Chapman- hoping to dupe the public once again with his obfuscation.

  • 2021-10-14 at 3:56 pm
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    Shifty Sheriff Mike Chapman put out a CYA press release with the following “facts” as to why he did not notify the public about a sexual assault/rape at a school for so long:

    1) It was a complicated investigation

    2) Suspect and victim knew each other

    3) It could have identified a victim

    Yet later, when the same suspect attacked another student, a press release was done immediately. in that situation, Sheriff Chapman cited:

    1) The case was not complicated

    2) The arrest was immediate

    3) It was unlikely to identify the victim

    This is nonsense. If the first incident (forced rape) was investigated the way it should have been, i.e., SANE exam, Special Victim Unit assigned immediately, victim interview done, suspect identified, etc. an arrest would/should have been made quickly. Lab results would follow later. It’s standard procedure. Nothing too complicated about that. “The victim and suspect knew each other”…so what? Plenty of criminals know their victims. Family Court is full of them. Possibly identify the victim in a sexual assault? If that was the logic behind the first incident, why would it be different in the second sexual assault?

    This is classic Sheriff Chapman- hoping to dupe the public once again with his obfuscation.

  • 2021-10-14 at 3:59 pm
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    Remember when Darwin Torres raped and killed the 16 year old Muslim girl in Sterling a couple of years back? Approximately 10 days before that murder, Torres’ wife went to the hospital with injuries from an assault. During an interview with hospital staff, the wife stated that she was beaten and raped by her husband. She also mentioned his gang affiliation. Child Protective Services (CPS) responded and took a report. A copy was issued to the Sheriff’s Office. It fell through the cracks and it was not assigned a case number and investigated. When Torres was arrested for the rape and murder of that teenager, CPS reached out to the Sheriff’s Office to give them a heads up that he was on their radar earlier. Sheriff Chapman’s reaction? He called a meeting with his staff and strategized as to how to keep this from the public. When it did get leaked, he reconvened a staff meeting and berated them for having a “rat” in the house. He then had a “loyalty pledge” issued to all deputies reminding them that they could be polygraphed at any time for suspected leaks of information and required them to sign a pledge of loyalty. I’m not making this up.

  • 2021-10-14 at 5:59 pm
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    If the LCSO involvement in these incidents is accurate, we should all have a great many questions for the Sheriff and his deputies. It seems evident that the LCSO colluded with the LCPS and the CA and maybe county board members to hush up the May incident and flagrantly attempt to gag Mr. Smith.

    Their reaction to Mr. Smith at the June 22 meeting always seemed over the top to me. Again, were they specifically targeting Mr. Smith at this meeting? Who instigated that targeting?

    Far from a poster child for “domestic terrorism,” Mr. Smith is looking like the victim of government tyranny aimed at violating his and his daughter’s rights under color of law.

    Loudoun residents need to know who in the government is colluding to stomp on the rights of victims of crime. So far, it looks like a number of government officials could be implicated in covering up sexual assaults over a period of years. This is simply unacceptable. It looks more and more like we need to a clean sweep of the entire county government.

  • 2021-10-14 at 8:40 pm
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    Why is LCPS covering this up? Get rid of them all. Also, saw another article where Buta is trying to blame probation, he was on electronic monitoring. News flash, if he was allowed in school by LCPS then the electronic monitoring wouldn’t matter. He was where he was supposed to be, why can she Buta not take responsibility for her offices incompetence. She did the same in the domestic case recently where the man killed his wife with a hammer, should never have been out on bond, but she blames probation.

  • 2021-10-15 at 3:46 am
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    First, I don’t care if that child was attacked in a one room school house on Alaska’s back 40, RAPE IS A CRIME and there is NO SCHOOL BOARD THAT HAS a right to launch their OWN investigation separate from and without reporting a crime to the police. The fact that this man sat in a room with some know It all idiot and didn’t knock somebody flat of their behind for this, “the [School Resource Officer] and the principal made it very clear that they had to do their investigation and that we weren’t to talk about anything. … The school counselor was in the room with my wife and daughter and told my daughter and my wife they’re not supposed to talk about anything,”, is, in of itself, a testament to the fact that this man DID, in fact do very well at holding his temper.
    Second, is the administration at that school smoking crack or something that makes them think they have some sort of special permission to act outside the law that governs them? The Be Better Woodgrove group said they did mostly listening at that meeting.
    “Those meetings were about 80% listening to the administrators,” a Be Better Woodgrove member said.

    The school district said that the group worked to inform the revisions of Policy 8270, the student dress code, and Policy 8035, dealing with sexual discrimination and assault. Be Better Woodgrove, though, said that the group wasn’t asked to assist in writing policies.”

    Does anyone else see an issue with the quote I included here? The meeting that was called at that point was not to address anything other than the failure of the “educators” who are there to teach and keep students safe to do so. How in flying fudge sauce does a meeting instigated by two rapes and a group of women who attended the SAME school and we’re also sexually assaulted turn into discussion about STUDENT DRESS CODE? Surely to God the school board, a supposedly educated beyond 3rd grade group of adults would know better to than to discuss DRESS CODE in this situation?! Fir goodness sake nobody can possibly be that insanely stupid. What the girl was wearing is not and should not be the issue. Why would it when the rapist was WEARING A SKIRT?!!!!! If I were this man and the school board treated my child in this manner, the woman who popped off her mouth would STILL be looking for teeth and I would’ve well on my way to finding out if the entire school district, especially that woman, Buta whatever, could be held criminally liable for the attack on BOTH girls right along with the little piece of … Feces that did the attacking. To know it was done to one student and to move the attacker from that school to another? They should be held liable and be fired with conditions. Those conditions being they are never to work in a school in ANY CAPACITY. They should also be charged with violating the false claims act and every other federal charge that cream be thrown at them.
    I mean the morons wanted to involve the feds? I hope those 2 children and their family lay that school board flat and keep going all the way to the dummy of an Attorney General!

  • 2021-10-15 at 1:09 pm
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    Why did Dr. Ziegler lie to the school board with respect to sexual assaults in loudoun schools? Why was student accused of something as violent as this put into another classroom? Who will be held accountable in the government school system? Leadership change is needed, maybe the can reopen the national search for a qualified superintendent and put Dr. Z. back in his old role until he can learn to be honest with the school board that oversee the school system and the public. Sorry Scott, you DO need parent input, because what is going on now is completely unacceptable.

  • 2021-10-16 at 8:24 pm
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    This is the letter Tim Flynn, Principal of Stonebridge HS, sent home to parents the day a young man wearing a skirt walked into a girls restroom at his school and allegedly raped a 15 year-old girl:

    “There was an incident in the main office area today that required the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office to dispatch deputies to Stone Bridge. The incident was confined to the main office and the entrance area to the school. There was no threat to the safety of the student body. The incident was witnessed by a small number of students who were meeting with staff adjacent to the main office. Counseling services and the services of our Unified Mental Health Team are available for any student who may need to talk about today’s incident. Students might have noticed Sheriff’s Office personnel on campus and I wanted to let you know that something out of the ordinary happened at school today. The safety of our students and staff is the top priority of Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS).”

    The only reason Flynn called the Sherif’s office was to remove Scott Smith, who was naturally distressed and upset about what LCPS & Flynn’s policy allowed to happen to his daughter. Who wouldn’t be? Then Flynn’s only expressed concern is for the “safety of our students and staff” who may have overheard Smith. He even lays it thick by offering counseling for any sensitive individual who may have been traumatized by hearing shouting coming from the office. Apparently a potential rapist with free range of the school was not a concern.

    I’m so glad my HS daughter is not attending LCPS.

  • 2021-10-19 at 4:01 pm
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    I am still baffled at the lack of recompense for the understandably enraged father who, as any loving father would, wanted to speak out – and his situation was grossly misrepresented.

    ***Mr. Smith*** – we care what happened to your daughter…we CARE…our thoughts and prayers are with you, as well as the other families (second victim) impacted by this situation.

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