Imagine that you get the second-worst call from school that any parent can get: your child has been raped. Would you want school leaders to address the incident promptly and ensure the safety of other students, or deny that the incident occurred, leave kids at risk, and leverage the tragedy to advance a partisan political agenda?
Loudoun County school superintendent Scott Ziegler picked the second option. As detailed in a horrifying story by Daily Wire reporter Luke Rosiak, a freshman girl was raped in the women’s bathroom by a “gender fluid,” skirt-wearing boy in May. At a June school board meeting at which attendees debated the district’s new transgender bathroom policy, Ziegler declared that his district had no record of sexual assaults in school bathrooms. Local reporting has since revealed that Ziegler knew about the incident at the time of the June meeting. And Loudoun County parents were outraged to learn that the rapist allegedly sexually assaulted another girl at another school earlier this month.
Ziegler attempted to defend himself in a public statement, which read in part:
Throughout these recent events, the Loudoun County Public Schools complied with our obligations under Title IX. However, we have found the process outlined under Title IX by the U.S. Department of Education to be insufficient in addressing issues at the K-12 level. We believe the process could be strengthened with some reforms. I am recommending to the Loudoun County School Board that this issue is placed on our legislative agenda, and that the board and its allied groups actively lobby for changes to allow more protections to victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault.
It’s true that the Trump administration’s regulatory changes to Title IX strengthened due-process protections, establishing rigorous procedures for investigating and addressing allegations of sexual assault, so Ziegler’s defense may strike some as plausible. Given how central the Loudoun sexual assault scandal has become to national debates about K-12 education, Ziegler’s complaint would be, as they say, “big, if true.”
But it’s not true. The text of the federal register couldn’t be clearer that Ziegler and the school district had every tool they needed to address the situation properly. The federal register clearly states that school districts are “obligated to conclude a grievance process within a reasonably prompt time frame” (85 Fed. Reg. 30182-183). This language provides school districts with more flexibility to resolve grievances quickly than the Obama administration’s Title IX guidance afforded.
The first incident occurred in May; the second, in October. Six months is hardly a “reasonably prompt time frame,” given that a rape kit taken the day of the first assault provided evidence favorable to a criminal prosecution.
Furthermore, Trump’s Title IX regulation stipulates that school districts may remove “a respondent from the [district’s] education program or activity on an emergency basis,” even before the grievance process is concluded (85 Fed. Reg. 30233). The school need only determine that a threat exists; the regulation “does not limit the factors that a [school district] may consider in reaching that determination.” Indeed, the federal register is emphatic that school districts have “the ability (and, judged under the deliberate indifference standard, the obligation) to protect and support complainants and respond to emergency threat situations” (85 Fed. Reg. 30267). (Emphasis added.)
In other words, it was entirely up to the Loudoun County school district to determine whether a student credibly accused of rape—a crime for which police had collected physical evidence—presented a “threat” to his peers. School administrators decided that he did not pose such a threat and assigned him to a new school. Loudoun County schools had the authority to put the accused student into distance learning (where all students had been for the better part of the past school year) while he awaited trial. As one high school student accurately told the school board this week, “If you can make a child stay home for refusing to wear a mask, you can also make a child stay home for raping another student.”
Loudoun County schools chose not to do so.
Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin first called for an investigation of the Loudoun County school board and then for the board members’ resignations. Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe labeled Youngkin’s call part of a pattern of “angry Trumpian conspiracy theories.” It’s hardly surprising, then, that parents of schoolchildren in Virginia reportedly favor Youngkin by a 17-point margin.
Whatever voters decide this November, one thing is certain: responsibility for the failure to address the sexual assaults of these young women lies exclusively with the Loudoun County school district. Liberal activists have no justification for claiming—and mainstream journalists none for parroting—that this tragedy had anything to do with the Trump administration’s Title IX regulation.