By MATTHEW BARAKAT
The former superintendent of a northern Virginia school system has been indicted on three misdemeanor charges by a special grand jury that investigated the response to two sexual assaults committed by a student last year.
The grand jury has also issued a felony perjury indictment against the school system’s primary spokesman.
The indictments against former Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Ziegler and spokesman Wayde Byard follow release of a report last week that faulted the school system in general, and Ziegler in particular, for a lack of transparency about the assaults. It also concluded that the second assault could have been prevented if officials had heeded warning signs in the student’s behavior.
The grand jury was commissioned by Republican Attorney General Jason Miyares after he and Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office at the start of the year. Both criticized the school system during their election campaigns.
The school system sought unsuccessfully to quash the grand jury investigation, calling it politically motivated.
The school system issued a statement Monday saying Byard has been placed on leave, and noting that the board on Tuesday plans to take up recommendations issued by the grand jury. Ziegler and Byard are scheduled to make initial appearances in Loudoun County Circuit Court on Tuesday.
The three misdemeanors against Ziegler include one count of false publication, one count of prohibited conduct related to alleged retaliation against a teacher, and one count of penalizing an employee for a court appearance.
The indictments, unsealed Monday, include few details, but the false publication count appears to relate to a statement Ziegler made in June 2021 denying that there had been any assaults occurring in school bathrooms. In fact, the first sexual assault occurred a month earlier in a bathroom stall at Stone Bridge High School, and emails show Ziegler had been made aware of it.
Ziegler later said he misunderstood the question.
The other two charges are not related to the assaults but to a lawsuit filed by a special education teacher, Erin Brooks, who alleged that the school system retaliated against her after she reported that a special needs student at an elementary school had sexually assaulted her. That lawsuit is ongoing.
The school board unanimously voted to fire Ziegler last week shortly after the special grand jury issued its report.
Byard, the longtime spokesman for the school system, is best known in the county as the voice on the automated calls and messages that notify students when schools are closed due to inclement weather. Students have elevated him to a sort of cult status, creating memes honoring his position as the bearer of good news to students looking for a respite from classwork.
After the first assault occurred in a girls’ bathroom stall at Stone Bridge in May 2021, the student was charged in juvenile court and barred by court order from returning to Stone Bridge, according to the grand jury report.
Administrators then transferred him to nearby Broad Run High School, where the second assault occurred in October 2021. He was convicted in juvenile court of both assaults.
The report says teachers at both schools warned administrators of the student’s disturbing conduct weeks before each assault occurred. Even the student’s grandmother spoke up and warned the student’s probation officer, referring to her grandchild as a “sociopath,” according to the report.
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