Sunday, February 25, 2024

What Happened in Loudoun Schools

In the summer of 2021, video of a father from Loudoun County, Virginia getting arrested at a school board meeting went viral. To the mainstream media, he became the posterchild of anti-LGBTQ animus at the heart of the parental rights movement. He’d come to oppose a new transgender-bathroom policy and totally lost his cool. 

Months later, Daily Wire reporter Luke Rosiak added some context: the man’s daughter had been raped by a skirt-wearing “gender-fluid” boy in a girl’s bathroom. And he had just heard Loudoun Superintendent Scott Zeigler deny that there was record of any such assault. 

That was, according to a grand jury report released last week, a “bald-faced lie.”

Governor Glenn Youngkin’s administration empaneled the grand jury because the same student went on to sexually assault another girl at another school, and the school district was not forthcoming with answers. The answers found by the grand jury report are disturbing.

Part of the problem, the report suggests, was a culture of disciplinary leniency. (For example, elsewhere in the district, when two elementary special education teachers complained about a student who continually grabbed at their groins, they were advised to wear aprons or pieces of cardboard.) The grand jury concluded that if the misbehavior of the assailant after he was transferred to a new school had been taken seriously, the “sexual assault most likely would not have occurred.”

The principal at the new school had been advised that the student was awaiting trial for felony sexual assault. At the start of the school year, the student made two female students in his art class so uncomfortable that they asked to be moved away from him. The teacher did so, and told the principal, who told her he’d “check in” on the situation. Shortly thereafter, the assailant grabbed a girl “really hard,” tried to steal her computer, asked if she’d ever posted nude photos online, and asked another boy if there were nude photos online of his grandmother.

The assistant principal reported the incident to the superintendent’s chief of staff, who determined that the offense didn’t meet the threshold for a Title IX violation. Top district staff, including the superintendent, knew that this was the student awaiting trial, but took no action. Responsibility fell to the principal, who did not conduct any further review of the student’s disciplinary file and ultimately decided to issue a verbal reprimand. Less than a month later, the student committed the second sexual assault.

The report suggests that lax school discipline played a role in the second assault – but did the transgender bathroom policy truly play a role in the first? After the Daily Wire article was published, many liberal pundits insisted that it was unfair to say so because the policy was not yet officially in place. But the report contained two strongly suggestive details. First, a teacher had walked into the bathroom as the first sexual assault was occurring and seen two pairs of feet in a stall – but took no action. The assailant knew that he had a space where he could commit an assault, later commenting that “they usually don’t do anything” when seeing things like two pairs of feet in a stall. Second, top Loudoun school officials understood the connection between this incident and their bathroom policy. Shortly after the assault, the district’s chief operating officer e-mailed the superintendent, deputy superintendent, assistant superintendent, and director of communications, saying that “the incident at SBHS is related to policy 8040 [the transgender bathroom policy]. I will send a Teams appointment from 3:30 to 5.” 

For many months before Daily Wire’s Rosiak broke this story, Loudoun schools had been in the news for their aggressive embrace of woke policies and ideology. After the news got out, reaction filtered along partisan lines: conservatives insisting that something was deeply rotten, liberals arguing that conservatives were wrong or simply ignoring the story altogether.

But the stark facts got through to many Virginia voters, and these incidents may have played a pivotal role in the 2021 election of Youngkin to the governor’s office. Because of Youngkin, we now have a full picture of what happened – or as full a picture as possible, given the potential obstruction and witness-tampering suggested by the grand jury report. Parents in Loudoun County and across the country should read the report in full. Whatever policy conclusions you draw about transgender bathrooms or school discipline, one thing is certain: virtue-signaling is no sign of virtue.

This article was originally published by RealClearEducation and made available via RealClearWire.