Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Ziegler called for a change to Title IX protocol during last night’s School Board meeting. He said a change may have prevented a high-profile sexual assault from occurring in an Ashburn high school three weeks ago.
During a discussion about the Title IX violation reporting process, Ziegler said that he would like to see school divisions be given the authority to remove a student from the general school population if he or she presents an immediate threat to others.
“Local school divisions should have flexibility to provide greater protection measures including removing students completely from the student body when initial circumstance warrants it,” Ziegler told the School Board as it reviewed its 2022 legislative agenda, which it will submit to the General Assembly delegation.
The School Board and administration came under fire when news surfaced that a student who had sexually assaulted a classmate at Stone Bridge High School assaulted a second student six months later after being transferred to Broad Run High School. Ziegler informed the board on May 28, the day of the first incident, that the Sheriff’s Office was handling the investigation. However, when it was reported that the same student was transferred to a different school the following year, School Board members said they were unaware of the initial incident.
Ziegler said the school district would not conduct its own investigation until the Sheriff’s Office had concluded its. He claimed that Title IX protocols had been followed in response to the situation, but the protocols were insufficient to prevent the second tragedy.
Under Title IX, a division may remove the student on an emergency basis if it first conducts an individualized safety and risk analysis and determines that there is an immediate threat to students. It is unclear why the administration did not remove the student until investigations had concluded.
But, Division Title IX Coordinator Mark Smith said, with allegations that are also criminal in nature, the division defers to law enforcement.
“At times it’s hard for us to do a full risk assessment because we don’t have a full understanding of the information. … Sometimes, if it’s a sexual assault, it’s immediately turned over to law enforcement and we may not have the full details to make that assessment,” Smith told the board.
Aside from scenarios that pose an immediate risk to students, schools may modify student schedules or shift students to virtual learning to separate students involved in a complaint. But, both the defendant and the complainant must agree to those changes.
Changes to Title IX must be made at the federal level. Vice Chairwoman Atoosa Reaser (Algonkian) said that the School District legislative liaisons would need to work with members of Congress for those changes to be implemented.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, the board was inundated with calls for resignations over the assaults.
“If you can make a child stay home for refusing to wear a mask, you can make a child stay home for raping another student,” student Kaitlyn Hornbaker said.
Ted Williamson, a father in the Catoctin district, told the board that his daughters don’t go into bathrooms at school unless they are with a friend.
“We encourage them to hold it until they get home,” he said.
The scandal captured national attention and has catapulted education issues to the centerstage of the upcoming elections. John Beatty (Catoctin) gave a statement to Fox News last night, calling for Ziegler’s resignation, claiming the superintendent withheld information for political gain.
One speaker during the meeting condemned Beatty and School Board critics for using the assault for political gain.
The Biden administration already is reviewing Title IX, a process that is set to conclude next May. The 60-day Virginia General Assembly session begins on Jan. 12.