Madison Hirneisen | December 13, 2022
(The Center Square) – A special grand jury has indicted a former Loudoun County Public Schools superintendent and the district’s public information officer on four counts total in the aftermath of the grand jury’s investigation into the school system’s handling of sexual assault.
A Loudoun County judge ordered the unsealing Monday of the four indictments issued by the special grand jury against former Superintendent Scott Ziegler and Public Information Officer Wayde Byard. The grand jury had initially returned a true bill against Ziegler in June, followed by two additional indictments in September, according to a press release from the attorney general’s office. The special grand jury was empaneled in April at the request of Attorney General Jason Miyares.
Ziegler was indicted on three misdemeanors –– one count of false publication, one of prohibited conduct and another of penalizing an employee for a court appearance. Byard was indicted on one count of felony perjury.
The indictments were unsealed a week after the release of a blistering report criticizing how the school system handled two sexual assaults by the same student in 2021. Ziegler was fired during a closed session of last week’s school board meeting, a day after a special grand jury report was released. According to 7News, Ziegler’s contract says he is entitled to receive compensation over a 12-month period of his over $300,000 annual salary.
The first assault occurred in a girl’s restroom at Stone Bridge High School in May 2021, and the second assault occurred in October 2021 after the perpetrator was transferred to Broad Run High School. The teen was later convicted.
The assaults sparked community outrage and made national headlines. In the report on the board’s handling of both assaults, the special grand jury concluded LCPS administrators “failed at every juncture” and were “looking out for their own interests instead of the best interests of LCPS.”
The report also accused Ziegler of lying at a school board meeting about the May 2021 assault. Ziegler had initially informed board members about the first sexual assault, but later said during a public meeting he was not aware of any assaults occurring in school bathrooms, as previously reported by The Center Square. The special grand jury wrote in the report last week that they believe Ziegler’s statement was a “bald-faced lie.”
One of the indictments against Ziegler asserts the superintendent knowingly misled the public with untrue statements in the media on June 22, 2021. While the indictment does not provide further context, it was on that date that Ziegler said during a school board meeting that he was unaware of any sexual assaults of occurring in school bathrooms.
The two other misdemeanors against Ziegler relate to actions the former superintendent allegedly took against Erin Brooks, a special education teacher who filed a lawsuit against the school district in June, according to copies of the indictments obtained by The Center Square. Brooks’ lawsuit claims the school administrators “repeatedly dismissed and ignored” her after she reported a student for sexual assault.
One of the indictments against Ziegler asserts he took “adverse personnel action” against Brooks on June 7 after she was summoned to appear in court, and another states that he “unlawfully” used his position to “retaliate or threaten to retaliate” against Brooks for “expressing views on matters of public concern” on the same date. Ziegler told The Washington Post in a statement on Monday evening he intends to fight the charges against him.
The felony indictment against Byard alleges he “feloniously and willfully” swore falsely after taking an oath, according to a copy of the indictment obtained by The Center Square. LCPS announced Monday night Byard was placed on leave after the indictments were unsealed.
“While LCPS will await any additional updates from the special grand jury, LCPS plans to address the recommendations of the special grand jury in the school board’s Dec. 13, 2022 work session,” the school district wrote in a press release. “The board will consider policy-related and process improvements to implement to further ensure the safety and care of all LCPS staff and students and restore trust within our community.”
Ian Prior, executive director of Fight for Schools, issued a statement recognizing the parents of Loudoun County “who have stood up for years highlighting the arrogance, incompetence and gross neglect of those leaders.”
“We are beyond pleased that the families who were harmed by the egregious failures of the leadership of Loudoun County Public Schools, exacerbated by its repeated acts of deceit and dishonesty, will receive some measure of justice,” Prior said.