Grand Jury Report on Loudoun Schools Raises Threat Assessment Issue – Again

Stone Bridge High School Chantilly

by James C. Sherlock

Update Dec. 7 at 7:33:  LCPS Superintendent Scott Ziegler was fired yesterday by the school board.  That does not begin to resolve the issue of threat assessment.

The University of Virginia Threat Assessment Team (TAT), with knowledge of a threat, failed to intervene before tragedy in the case of the student who is alleged to have killed three and wounded two other students on that bus a few weeks ago.

The only disagreements are whether the failure was a state policy mistake, state oversight mistake, a systemic mistake at the University of Virginia, a mistake of the persons on the TAT or some combination.

Now we have a grand jury report on another pair of incidents that question the effectiveness of threat assessment and mitigation in our public K-12 schools.

As with the colleges and universities, we have state laws and model policies in place for K-12 schools. As with the institutions of higher learning, there is no state oversight to ensure compliance.

So, as at UVa, in practice the TAT process failed — or from the evidence so far wasn’t even employed — in two different Loudoun County high schools when there was ample warning to officials of both schools that a student was an imminent threat.

He proved to be a rapist — twice.

Laws and policies without either oversight or consequences for those who fail to execute them provide false comfort with tragic consequences that are seemingly endless here.

At the request of the Attorney General, a nine-member special grand jury was empaneled by the Circuit Court of Loudoun County to investigate the actions of Loudoun County Public Schools and the Loudoun County School Board surrounding the rapes of two adolescent girls in two different county high schools by the same student.

It reported on December 2, and has not yet been discharged. The tone was set in the first paragraph of the overview.

We believe that throughout this ordeal LCPS administrators were looking out for their own interests instead of the best interests of LCPS. This invariably led to a stunning lack of openness, transparency, and accountability both to the public and the special grand jury. There were several decision points for senior LCPS administrators, up to and including the superintendent, to be
transparent and step in and alter the sequence of events leading up to the October 6, 2021 (Broad Run High School) BRHS sexual assault. They failed at every juncture.

It further concluded that — my words — there wasn’t a coordinated coverup because nearly all participants were incompetent in the matter of protecting students from a predator and after the two rapes everyone involved was out to escape personal blame.

The grand jury concluded, among other things, that:

the October 6, 2021 abduction and sexual assault of a female student at Broad Run High School could have, and should have, been prevented.

I am going to leave that there for a moment and pick up on the subject of Virginia § 22.1-79.4. Threat assessment teams and oversight committees and regulations on K-12 threat assessments.

Each local school board shall adopt policies for the establishment of threat assessment teams, including the assessment of and intervention with individuals whose behavior may pose a threat to the safety of school staff or students.

Among the evidence gathered by the special grand jury:

On May 12, 2021 — less than four weeks after students returned to in-person school from the pandemic [author’s note – another late-returning Blue school division] – a teaching assistant at Stone Bridge High School (SBHS) wrote to her superiors about one of her students (assailant), stating, in part:

. . . but if this kind of reckless behavior persists, I wouldn’t want to be held accountable if someone should get hurt.

Sixteen days later that student sexually assaulted a female student in the girls’ bathroom at SBHS.

The boy remained at large in the school for three hours after the assault.

The Stone Bridge principal’s first recorded action was to get a no trespass order — against the assaulted girl’s father who was angry. The principal then notified the community — about the actions of the father, not the rape.

The student (assailant) was transferred to Broad Run High School.

The next piece of grand jury evidence relevant to the threat assessment issue is:

In early September 2021, two female students at BRHS enrolled in an art class with the former SBHS student approached their teacher, asking to be moved away from him in class. The former SBHS student made them feel “uncomfortable by the way he was behaving” because he had discovered where their friend group was hanging out and was following them around.

The art teacher reported these events to the Broad Run principal, who failed to inform the teacher of the connection to the events at SBHS or that the assailant was a recent transfer.

On September 9, 2021 — just over two weeks into the new school year — the individual grabbed the shoulder of a girl “really hard” and kept tapping her head with a pencil during class. He tried to take the girl’s Chromebook and asked her if she had ever posted nudes online. He then asked another boy if his grandmother had posted any nudes online. The superintendent, deputy superintendent, and superintendent’s chief of staff all learned of this incident and knew it was the same individual who committed the sexual assault at SBHS.

Despite having a twelve-page disciplinary file, wearing an ankle monitor, being closely monitored by the Broad Run principal, knowledge of this incident by the highest administrators in LCPS,
and a suggestion by the court services unit that a more serious punishment be given, the individual received nothing more than a verbal admonishment for these actions.

Less than a month later, on October 6, 2021, the individual snatched an unassuming female out of the hallway, abducted her into an empty classroom, nearly asphyxiated her, and sexually assaulted her. The individual was taken into custody that day, where he has remained ever since.

I’m sorry, “closely monitored by the Broad Run principal”?

I recommend reading the whole report, or as much of it as you can stomach.

My point here is that there was no reference in 92 pages that I can find to the employment of either school’s threat assessment team when the perpetrator was an identified threat in both schools before both rapes.

From paragraph D. of § 22.1-79.4.

D. Upon a preliminary determination that a student poses a threat of violence or physical harm to self or others, a threat assessment team shall immediately report its determination to the division superintendent or his designee. The division superintendent or his designee shall immediately attempt to notify the student’s parent or legal guardian. Nothing in this subsection shall preclude school division personnel from acting immediately to address an imminent threat.

Actions required. The grand jury has more work to do for us all.  I recommend it investigate the status of threat assessments in Loudoun County Public Schools and report.

So that maybe this does not happen again.

The state Department of Criminal Justice Services runs the Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety and Public Safety Services, has written model policies, and provides training for but does not inspect K-12 or higher education threat assessment programs.

It must ask the Governor and General Assembly for the authority and resources it needs to conduct surveys and inspections.

For the school boards and superintendents, read the grand jury report and get on it.

UVa and two different high schools each failing to act properly in the presence of identified threats appears to confirm the presence of a trend.

Parents, if you want to get mad at something, get mad at this.