Three parents of Loudoun County Public Schools student, represented by the Founding Freedoms Law Center, are suing the school division in Circuit Court for what they charge was an infringement upon their rights to address the School Board during the June 22 meeting.
The plaintiffs, Megan Clegg, Megan Rafalski and Adam Rafalski, were signed up to address the board during that meeting.
During the meeting, the board voted to end the public comment session early after then-Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) repeatedly warned the crowd against making outbursts such as clapping or cheering speakers during the meeting. Many members of the crowd were present to oppose the then-proposed protections for transgender students, and the suspension of Byron “Tanner” Cross, a teacher who’d been publicly criticized the policy. The board ultimately voted to end public comment early because the crowd wouldn’t comply with Sheridan’s request for order. Superintendent Scott Ziegler declared the meeting an unlawful assembly and Sheriff’s Office deputies cleared the board room.
The board’s public comment formatwas limited following the June 22 incident. In August, the board room was closed to the public during meetings. Speakers were required to line up and enter the board room individually to address the dais. Then, in September, the board limited who may speak during meetings to people with ties to Loudoun either through residence, business, or school attendance.
The plaintiffs in the suit allege that: “limited resumption of the public comment section of the School Board meetings constitutes an insufficient, impermissible, and equally violative measure. The capacity and limited speaking constraints continue to preclude the plaintiffs, and the citizens and parents of Loudoun County, from meaningfully participating in the school board meetings and particularly the forum provided by the public comments section of each School Board meeting.”
The documents cite an incident during which Rafalski confronted the board after the June 22 meeting, “by asking the chair why she was being forced to leave the room when the law states that the meeting must remain open to the public. As Mrs. Rafalski stood next to the podium after her one minute allotted time had expired, still waiting for the Chair to respond, a Loudoun County Public School security guard began to make his way towards Mrs. Rafalski, signaling that she would be removed from the room- at which time she left.”
The plaintiffs are seeking a declaration from the court that the division has violated their rights under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, and that the Ziegler’s declaration of an unlawful assembly was without merit and abridged the public’s rights to peacefully assembly. The plaintiffs are also asking the court to bar the School Board from limiting speakers and from excluding the public from meetings. It requests the court impose a penalty for violations of Virginia FOIA. It is also seeking damages in costs and legal fees, as well as “other relief as the nature of the cause, or the goals of justice and equity may require.”
According to its website, the Founding Freedoms Law Center was founded by the Family Foundation of Virginia, to “increase our capacity to fight for God-given foundational freedoms and against oppressive and unjust government edicts—not only in the executive branch and the General Assembly, but also in the courts.”
The School Board next meets Jan. 11 at 4p.m.