‘They knew’: Loudoun Co. school board slammed for not firing Superintendent Ziegler sooner

Former Loudoun County school board member Andrew Hoyler says he was shocked the school board unanimously voted to fire Superintendent Scott Ziegler.

“I was really surprised when I saw it was a unanimous vote,” Hoyler told 7News. “I had made it clear I was ready for change months ago, but we never got close to having even a simple majority – five – who we felt would be open to making change. The fact that he [Ziegler] got a sizeable raise just months ago shows he had the support of multiple board members during the grand jury process. It came as a big surprise to me.”

Hoyler says his former colleagues on the school board likely knew much of the information that was in the scathing special grand jury report that showed how the Superintendent and school administrators handled two sexual assaults at two different schools.

Around 10 p.m. on Tuesday, the Loudoun County school board entered closed session and voted unanimously to fire Ziegler.

But some parents tell 7News Ziegler shouldn’t be the only person fired in LCPS.

“Why do you think school board members decided to fire Ziegler now if they knew about this before the grand jury report? Why did they wait?” 7News Reporter Nick Minock asked Hoyler.

“That is a very good question,” answered Hoyler. “A question that I wish I could have been in that meeting to see the answer for myself. I think it’s telling that all nine seats are up for reelection here in 11 months and public feedback on both sides of the aisle is not good.”

On Tuesday evening, Supervisor Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg) and several others on the Board of Supervisors raised several concerns about Ziegler. Supervisors from both sides on the political spectrum called on the Loudoun County school board to fire Ziegler.

“We have all read the report of the Special Grand Jury that was impaneled to investigate LCPS’s handling of two sexual assaults that victimized two girls. To my colleagues on the school board and elsewhere, the findings of the Special Grand Jury were nothing to celebrate. They outlined a legal system and a public school system that put children at risk and resulted in the lifelong trauma that accompanies sexual assault,” Umstattd.

Loudoun County Board of Supervisor Chair Phyllis Randall called on the school board to fire Ziegler.

On Tuesday, Umstattd compared what happened at LCPS to what happened at Penn State.

“One of my constituents with children in the public schools, asked me if there was any difference between LCPS and Penn State, citing the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Before I answered, he asked me to focus, not on the legalities, not on whether anyone in authority is indicted, but on the children and the damage that was done to them,” said Umstattd. “If we put the children at the center of this question, it is hard to find a meaningful difference. 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 a lifetime.”

Umstattd blasted fellow elected officials and LCPS for their written response to the special grand jury report that said LCPS and school board leadership was “pleased” no indictments were filed.

“The victory lap that has played out online – that no indictments were issued against school administration or elected officials – is unseemly, self-serving and callous,” said Umstattd. “The girls and their families deserve a heartfelt apology. I trust and hope the Commonwealth’s Attorney, the Sheriff, the courts and the school board will now embark on the kind of work needed to ensure that what happened to these two girls won’t ever happen again.”

Some parents tell 7News Ziegler shouldn’t be the only person fired in LCPS.

“I’m happy but it shouldn’t stop here,” said Loudoun County parent and co-founder and President of Army of Parents Elicia Brand. “He cannot be looked at as a sacrificial lamb. He deserved his punishment and there are many others in that building that deserve punishment as well.”

Brand said Deputy Superintendent Ashley Ellis and others within LCPS should be fired, too.

7News obtained Ziegler’s contract, which says if he is fired without cause from the school board – which in this case he was – he is entitled to receive compensation over a 12-month period of his annual salary which is more than $300,000.

“He left with a big golden parachute,” said Brand. “I’m not sure that is the right thing to do when you have had someone who has treated our students and our parents so egregiously.”

For more than a year, parent groups like Fight for Schools have called on the superintendent to be let go.

“It turns out we were right,” Ian Prior told 7News.

Prior says school board members who were on the board during the time of the sexual assaults should be held accountable, including Brenda Sheridan, Harris Mahdavia, Ian Serotkin and Atoosa Reaser.

Reaser is running for House of Delegates.

“She [Reaser] wants a promotion,” said Prior. “She had overseen as vice chair the most notorious school district in America and perhaps the most notorious school board in America. But I’m not just going to stop the blame with the Democrats on the board. I’m also going to call out Jeff Morse and John Beatty, he Republicans on the board. They were there too. I am beyond disappointed in them as well.”

Reaser was vice chair of the school board at the time of the sexual assaults and Sheridan was chair of the school board.

“It was Brenda Sheridan that was out here when he [Ziegler] gave a press conference, essentially misleading the public on Title IX,” said Prior. “She stood right by him as he did that. And then not only that, she defended him at the Board of Supervisors meeting. She defended him at multiple school board meetings and much of the school board voted in a way that gave him a $30,000 all while they had already reviewed the independent report that they refuse to release to the public which I assume we will never get. That contained a lot of the information that was provided to the grand jury, so it seems like they knew most of what was in that report and only fired him when it was politically convenient to do so. When the pressure got too hot, then they fired him and that is not leadership.”

School board member Denise Corbo told 7News she’s concerned with the findings in the grand jury report.

“Currently I am still processing the information provided in the report from the special grand jury and taking time to listen to community feedback,” Corbo told 7News. “I feel it’s imperative I wait to provide my personal comments regarding the report when it is clear the grand jury has finalized its proceedings and has been officially discharged, however, at this point I can share that I am concerned with the findings and feel for all those affected.“

School board member Erika Ogedegbe did not respond to 7News’s request for an interview.

However, school board member Tiffany Polifko did speak with 7News on Wednesday.

“While I was not a part of this board when these horrific events unfolded, I certainly was able to gather my own information as a parent and as a member of the community in Loudoun County,” Polifko told 7News. “I think that the school board made the right decision to end Superintendent Ziegler’s employment with Loudoun County and I firmly believe that we as a board have got to send a message loud and clear that we will hold a superintendent accountable and demand responsibility for behavior.”

Polifko added she has additional concerns.

“It is important to mend the current fracture in the relationship between parents and the school system for us to make certain that the next superintendent we hire is going to be an individual who will be accountable and who will take responsibility for their behavior and ensuring the safety of children in our school system and helping to foster a relationship of trust between parents and caregivers and the school system,” said Polifko.

Polifko said she spoke to 7News on Wednesday as an individual and not for the Loudoun County school board itself.

“My other concern though, is that this problem with the fractured relationship between parents and caregivers and the school system does not end with the firing of Superintendents Ziegler and I have additional concerns about where we stand in terms of our leadership in Loudoun County Public Schools.”

Loudoun4All on called Sheriff’s Mike Chapman to resign after the grand jury report.

The Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) remains committed to the citizens of Loudoun County and takes all reports of crime seriously,” the LCSO said on Wednesday. “ Regarding the Report of the Special Grand Jury on the Investigation of Loudoun County Public Schools, it is important to note that the LCSO immediately and thoroughly investigated the sexual assaults at Stone Bridge and Broad Run High Schools. From the initial reporting on May 28, 2021, LCSO detectives promptly conducted interviews and filed search warrants for DNA, social media, and school surveillance footage. There was no delay in the investigation.”

The LCSO maintained the confidentiality required for juvenile investigations, while properly communicating with the Juvenile Court Services Unit, the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, and the Loudoun County Public Schools, a LCSO spokesperson said.

“From the onset of this investigation, we dedicated significant resources and I’m proud of the work accomplished by the many LCSO members who assisted with this investigation,” said Sheriff Chapman. “I am pleased that my recommendation for a Virginia Attorney General’s Office review of the incident was performed.”

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