Following a two-hour closed session to discuss the special grand jury’s report on Loudoun County Public Schools administration’s handling of two sexual assaults by the same student, the School Board voted unanimously and without public discussion Tuesday to fire Superintendent Scott Ziegler immediately and without cause.
Under the terms of his contract, since he was fired without cause, Ziegler will be paid his full $323,000 annual salary and compensation for the next year in monthly installments. On top of his salary, his compensation includes perks such as a $12,000 annual vehicle allowance, health insurance and retirement benefits. The School Board had approved a $28,000 raise for Ziegler in July.
The special grand jury investigated the school district’s handling of two sexual assaults by the same student, who, after attacking one girl in a bathroom at Stone Bridge High School, was transferred to Broad Run High School where he attacked another girl in an empty classroom. The special grand jury found school administrators prioritized their own best interests over those of the school district and community, blocked transparency to the public, and even attempted to obstruct the jury’s own investigation.
The School Board immediately adjourned following its vote, and refused comment outside the building after the meeting.
“It’s unfortunate that it took a special grand jury report for anyone to take any action,” stated Jessica Smith, the mother of the first victim. “The firing of Ziegler was way overdue and we hope this is the first of many firings of all those who failed these young women who now have to deal with what happened to them for the rest of their lives.”
Shortly before that vote, in a Board of Supervisors meeting happening at the same time, Loudoun County Chair Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) had called on the School Board to fire Ziegler.
“Let me say this as clearly as possible: Dr. Scott Ziegler needs to be fired,” she said during the Dec. 6 Board of Supervisors meeting. “I’m not dancing around this. We had a young woman violently raped and another one assaulted, and this was for all intents and purposes, on his part, a coverup.”
Randall also said “somebody should cover the cost” of the years of therapy the two victims are likely to need.
“They were failed at multiple levels, multiple levels, and if it can happen to them, it can happen to other people as well,” she said. “So School Board, and LCPS, get it together. Get it together. Fire him. Fire him today. Fire him tonight. If you read that report, you can’t come out with anything else.”
While supervisors were making their comments from the dais, the School Board was discussing the report behind closed doors, as well as citing state law permitting a closed-door meeting for “discussion of the performance of specific public employees.” Ziegler did not attend the School Board’s meeting that night.
Randall’s remarks capped off a section of the county board meeting in which supervisors are given a brief time to comment freely. Other supervisors also expressed outrage with the report.
Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) condemned the “victory lap” by School Board members and administrators who pointed out the grand jury leveled no criminal charges, calling it “unseemly” and “callous.” She said a constituent urged her to compare the incidents in Loudoun County Public Schools to the scandal around former Pennsylvania State University football coach Jerry Sandusky, who was found guilty of 45 counts of sexual abuse of young boys over a 15-year period.
“If we put the children at the center of this question, it is hard to find a meaningful difference in this case,” she said. “… In both cases, children were betrayed by those whose first and foremost job was to protect them, and in both cases their emotional scars will be with them for the rest of their lives.”
And pointing to repeated incidents in the report where warnings from teachers and staff were ignored, Supervisor Sylvia Glass (D-Broad Run), an elementary special education teacher’s assistant, urged the school district to listen.
“I hope that the school administration are realizing that they need to support their teachers, their teacher assistants,” she said. “We’re the ones that are on the front lines. We see what’s going on. We’re close witnesses to students’ behaviors. I hope warnings from teachers do not go unnoticed going forward.”
While other supervisors did not directly call for Ziegler’s firing, almost all called for the School Board to take action. Supervisor Caleb E. Kershner (R-Catoctin) encouraged the School Board to “look hard at removal or resignation of Superintendent Ziegler and others that might be responsible.”
“I didn’t view the special grand jury as an ideal way to get to the bottom of this, but there simply was never transparency about what actually happened,” Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) said. “And so now at least we know the facts about what happened, and honestly, the facts are worse than what I thought they were.”
He also pointed to ignored warnings from teachers, and said “there has to be responsibility” for the many failures outlined in the report.
“I truly believe as a community we cannot restore faith—and I say this also as a parent in the school system—without change,” he said.
Supervisor Michael R. Turner (D-Ashburn) said while the report revealed the administration mostly kept School Board members in the dark, “now the shoe’s on their foot” and it’s “a moment of real truth and reckoning for the School Board.”
“The School Board has an obligation morally, ethically and professionally in this county to do something about what this report has revealed,” he said. “The burden now is on the School Board. They can either be only the latest and final in a chain of dropped balls, or they can turn it around and say ‘no more, the buck stops right here and we’re going to do something about this.’”
And Vice Chair Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling) urged the School Board to release a third-party investigation into the incidents which the school district commissioned, but then withheld from the public entirely—not even releasing a redacted version to the public.
This article was updated Dec. 6 at 11:33 p.m. with comment from Jessica Smith.