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Loudoun County Public Schools names new superintendent amid controversy over response to sexual assaults

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The Loudoun County Public Schools in Virginia named Aaron Spence as the next superintendent on Friday, seven months after the district fired its superintendent amid allegations of mishandling sexual assault cases at two schools.

Spence, who has served as the superintendent of Virginia Beach Public Schools since 2014, was voted in a 6 to 2 decision to lead LCPS. One board member was absent for the vote. 

“I am honored to serve as your superintendent and look forward to building upon the already solid foundation of academic excellence in Loudoun County Public Schools,” he said in a statement. “It will be my goal from day one to ensure we are leading together to build trust, create even greater transparency for our community around the outstanding work of our school division, recruit and retain a world-class team of educators, and leverage the power of relationships with families and stakeholders to strengthen us.”

Spence takes the reins from Daniel Smith, who was appointed interim superintendent in December. Smith had taken over after superintendent Scott Ziegler was fired by the school board over a grand jury report accusing the district of failing to adequately respond to reports of sexual assault.

LOUDOUN COUNTY SUPERINTENDENT SCOTT ZIEGLER FIRED AFTER GRAND JURY REPORT ON HANDLING OF SEXUAL ASSAULTS

Scott Ziegler

Superintendent Scott Ziegler was fired by the school board last year over a grand jury report accusing the district of failing to adequately respond to reports of sexual assault. (Getty)

Two sexual assaults committed by the same student at two different LCPS schools were reported in 2021.

During a school board meeting in June 2021, a father accused the district of covering up his daughter’s sexual assault in which a biological boy wearing a skirt raped her in the girls’ bathroom a month earlier. The father claimed the district attempted to cover up his daughter’s assault to push its controversial transgender bathroom policy. 

The policy, which had not yet been implemented at the time of the assault, allows students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity.

The suspect was transferred to another school in the district and allegedly sexually assaulted another girl in October 2021. The suspect faced charges in both cases and was found guilty of the first sexual assault.

The grand jury report accused the district of looking out for its own interests over the best interests of its students in its handling of the sexual assaults and that LCPS “failed at every juncture.”

The report said LCPS displayed a “stunning lack of openness, transparency and accountability, both to the public and to the special grand jury” regarding its response to the sexual assaults. The report also criticized Ziegler for denying at the June 2021 school board meeting his knowledge of the first assault.

Parent Protest in Loudoun County, Virginia

Parents protesting in Loudoun County, Virginia, on June 22, 2021.  (Reuters)

Ziegler said at the board meeting that “the predator transgender student or person simply does not exist,” and, to his knowledge, “we don’t have any record of assaults occurring in our restrooms.” But on the day of the assault, May 28, 2021, Ziegler emailed school board members that the assault had been reported.

The school board fired Ziegler days after the grand jury report. He was later indicted and faces misdemeanor charges of false publication, prohibited conduct and penalizing an employee for a court appearance.

According to emails outlined in the grand jury report, senior district officials had privately met to discuss the first assault and linked it to the transgender policy.

The U.S. Department of Education launched an investigation in April into the handling of the sexual assault cases at LCPS.

US DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION LAUNCHES PROBE INTO LOUDOUN COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS OVER HANDLING OF SEXUAL ASSAULTS

A Virginia School board meeting reflects a battle playing out across the country over a once-obscure academic doctrine known as Critical Race Theory, in Ashburn

Angry parents and community members protest after a Loudoun County School Board meeting. (Reuters)

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School board chairman Ian Serotkin said Spence is expected to start as superintendent in the coming months, with Smith continuing to serve as superintendent until he takes over.

“His experience and success in running a large, complex public school division will ensure our students continue to receive the highest quality education,” Serotkin said in a statement.

LCPS hired a firm in February to lead its search for a new superintendent. A survey of parents, students and community members that led to more than 4,000 responses showed that school safety, staff retention and a focus on academics were among the most important issues.

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