Judge rules against school board in probe of sex assaults

July 11, 2022 GMT

LEESBURG, Va. (AP) — A judge on Monday rejected an effort by the Loudoun County School Board to shut down a special grand jury investigating the school system’s handling of two sexual assaults.

The school board says the special grand jury empaneled by Republican Attorney General Jason Miyares is politically motivated and illegally usurps the mandate in the Virginia constitution giving local school boards authority over educational affairs.

Miyares argues that the special grand jury he empaneled is needed to uncover why the school system allowed a boy who had been accused of sexually assaulting a girl in one high school to transfer to another high school, where he was convicted of sexually assaulting a second girl.

Miyares launched the grand jury after Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, on his first day in office, issued an executive order requesting an investigation by the attorney general’s office.

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Both Youngkin and Miyares had criticized the Loudoun County board in their successful 2021 political campaigns. They argued the board was not forthcoming in how it handled the case as it revised its guidelines over policies governing transgender students. The assaults attracted national attention in part because the boy — who was convicted of the assaults in juvenile court — was wearing a skirt when he committed at least one of the attacks.

At a hearing Monday in Loudoun County Circuit Court, Judge James Plowman — who previously served as the county’s elected Republican commonwealth’s attorney — said the school board essentially lacks standing to try to halt the work of the grand jury. He noted that even if the grand jury issues a report critical of the school system’s policies, the school board is under no obligation to respond to the report or change its policies.

Steven Popps, a deputy attorney general in Miyares’ office, said the school board is making assumptions about the work of the grand jury without all the facts.

“The school board does not get to decide the scope of the grand jury investigation,” he said. “The school board is not above the law.”

In a written statement, Miyares called Plowman’s decision “a win for parents and students across the Commonwealth.”

Theo Stamos, the special counsel overseeing the special grand jury, declined comment after Monday’s hearing.

In a statement issued after the hearing, the school system said it’s considering all its legal options, but that no decision has been made on whether to appeal. In court, though, the school board’s lawyer, Steven Webster, said one rationale for seeking the injunction to block the grand jury’s work was because it provided an avenue to appeal Plowman’s ruling.