Loudoun County, VA School System Updates Title IX Policies After Much-Criticized Handling of Sex Assault Cases

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The Loudoun County Public Schools board has voted to update the school system’s Title IX policies, including requiring school district officials to immediately investigate any allegations of sexual harassment, discrimination or misconduct.

The revisions, in the works since early January 2020, come a few months after the school system of 81,000 students attracted national attention and censure for officials’ handling of two sexual assault cases last year. In those cases, the same student committed two assaults at separate high schools a few months apart. School officials faced strong criticism for transferring the student to the second school despite their knowledge of the first assault.

Loudoun Superintendent Scott A. Ziegler said in mid-October that to make amends for the management of the sexual assault cases, the division would pursue major reforms to its disciplinary procedures, its partnership with the sheriff’s office and how it reports data on discipline to the state. He also said the school would lobby for Title IX changes at the national level by advocating for more protections for victims of harassment or assault at the K-12 level.

Title IX is the federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in schools and outlines how educational organizations must respond to incidents of discrimination.

Loudoun schools chief apologizes for district’s handling of alleged assaults, promises changes to disciplinary procedures

At a meeting Tuesday, the school board voted unanimously to adopt the revised version of the Title IX policies.

Shortly before the vote, board member Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridge) thanked the school personnel who have worked to revise the Title IX policy over the past two years.

“I especially want to thank the students who spoke up to advocate for changes here regarding notification timeline and mediation practice and other important topics,” Serotkin said.

The changes to Loudoun’s Title IX policies in part focus on the role of the division’s Title IX coordinator in investigating and responding to alleged incidents of sexual harassment, misbehavior and assault.

Discussing the Loudoun sexual assault cases last year, Ziegler said officials were hamstrung in responding to the incidents because Title IX required that they allow law enforcement to complete an investigation of the assaults before school officials could take action, such as disciplining the student who committed the assaults.

Ziegler has also refused to release the results of an independent review that the school district commissioned analyzing its response to the two sexual assaults. Loudoun officials have cited “attorney-client privilege” as the reason for not sharing the review, which was conducted by the law firm Blankingship & Keith. On Monday, parent advocacy group Fight for Schools filed a petition in Loudoun County Circuit Court asking the judge to compel release of the report.

The new Title IX procedures appear designed to streamline the investigation and disciplinary process.

“The Title IX Coordinator is responsible for ensuring that once any school or division employee has notice of sex discrimination, sexual harassment, or sexual misconduct … the division takes immediate and appropriate steps to investigate what occurred and takes prompt and effective action to stop the discrimination or harassment, prevent the recurrence, and remedy the effects,” the new policy says.

Other changes include forming a “prompt and equitable grievance process” that outlines, for students and families, how they can file a Title IX complaint; how the Title IX investigation and determination process works; and what rights complainants and respondents have during a Title IX investigation.

The updated policy also says Loudoun officials will develop “a list of possible remedies and/or disciplinary sanctions and [create] a process by which those remedies and actions are carried out” in cases of sexual harassment, assault and discrimination.

At the meeting Tuesday, Ziegler gave an update on what he called the school system’s effort to provide a “safe, welcoming and affirming environment for all.” He did not reference the sexual assault cases.

He said that Loudoun held a Title IX training for administrators last week and that 344 staffers participated. He also said he has gone on eight “student listening tours” in which he met with groups of student leaders on various campuses for “a frank discussion on schools, school culture.” And, Ziegler added, “we are also working to engage staff with support sessions that they need to reinforce a safe environment.”

Va. judge reverses decision to place teen on sex offender registry in bathroom assault case

The Loudoun teenager at the center of the two sexual assaults was convicted of the first and pleaded no contest to the second. In mid-January, Loudoun County Juvenile Court Chief Judge Pamela L. Brooks sentenced him to attending a residential treatment facility, where he will stay on probation until he is 18.

Brooks also originally ordered that the teenager, who was 15 when sentenced, remain on Virginia’s sex offender registry for the rest of his life. But she reversed that decision in late January, saying she had erred.

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