The Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) superintendent held a press conference Friday where he apologized for the district’s “shortcomings” with regard to reporting alleged sexual assault, shifted blame for an incident The Daily Wire reported on earlier this week, and appeared to blame the federal government — and, implicitly the Trump administration — for confusion on Title IX procedures.
Ziegler began his address by expressing empathy for the students involved in the case made public by The Daily Wire this week in a report which suggested that LCPS concealed evidence of an alleged sexual assault at one of its high schools — a decision which led to a second alleged sexual assault.
“[M]y heart aches for you and I am sorry that we failed to provide the safe, welcoming, and affirming environment that we aspire to provide,” he said. “We acknowledge and share in your pain and we will continue to offer support to help you and your families through this trauma. For all of our students, our school-based Unified Mental Health Teams are available to anyone who needs care.”
Ziegler did not mention Scott Smith by name, although it is Smith’s daughter who was the subject of the report. Smith was arrested for disorderly conduct and obstructing justice at a June 22nd school board meeting where the district’s new transgender and gender-fluid bathroom policy was debated. Smith became agitated after Ziegler responded to another board member denying knowledge of any alleged sexual assault or rape in an LCPS bathroom.
The superintendent then appeared to shift the blame to the federal government, suggesting that Title IX, which outlines sexual assault reporting on school campuses — and which were heavily revised by the Trump administration — are confusing and inadequate to the task of handling reports of allegations of assault at the K-12 level.
“It is important to know that Title IX directs how schools must investigate allegations of sexual harassment/assault and provides equal protection for both victims and the alleged perpetrators,” he said. “Throughout these recent events, the Loudoun County Public Schools complied with our obligations under Title IX. However, we have found the process outlined under Title IX by the U.S. Department of Education to be insufficient in addressing issues at the K-12 level. We believe the process could be strengthened with some reforms.”
Ziegler then proposed a series of changes to how LCPS handles alleged sexual assaults, including a closer relationship with the Loudoun County Sheriff’s office, as well as a change to the investigation process, beginning any investigation following an allegation — not waiting until either a Title IX or Sheriff’s investigation is concluded.
The Daily Wire, on Thursday, also alleged that LCPS failed to adequately report an allegation of sexual assault as required by Virginia law. Ziegler appeared to acknowledge issues with the district’s reporting, noting that the district “inadvertently omitted some information in the past” and that this “oversight” is “concerning.”
Moving forward, it is essential that we are consistent in our practices across the county. We are taking positive steps in that direction. This lack of oversight that existed prior to my tenure also contributed to errors in our state reporting regarding disciplinary incidents in schools. The division inadvertently omitted some information in the past. That is extremely concerning, and we are taking steps to make sure that process is improved. I will say that I have no reason to believe at this time that any missing reports were due to an intent to hide any information from the Virginia Department of Education. In the future, we will report events in real-time in our system and make corrections, if needed, following due process procedures. This will help ensure more accuracy in our Department of Education reports.
Finally, Ziegler addressed his comments suggesting that LCPS had not had an alleged sexual assault in a bathroom, claiming that he “wrongly interpreted” the question he was being asked.
“Board Member Barts asked a question about discipline incidents in the bathrooms that I wrongly interpreted as incidents involving transgender and gender-fluid students. I did this because I was viewing the question in light of the general questions and debate around policy 8040 that was occurring at the time,” he said. Multiple board members asked questions about the process, the experiences of students, and plans for transgender students and bathroom use during that discussion. My mindset was in line with that subject.”
“At another point in that conversation, Chair Sheridan asked a question specifically about incidents involving transgender students, and I responded in the same manner,” he said. “I regret that my comments were misleading and I apologize for the distress that error caused families. I should have asked Board Member Barts clarifying questions to get to the root of her question, rather than assuming what she meant. I will do better in the future.”
Ziegler’s answer ignores Smith’s contention that the student who allegedly assaulted his daughter was wearing a skirt at the time of the incident and reportedly identifies as “gender fluid,” per Smith.