The Loudoun County School Board held a public meeting Tuesday for the first time since June, when the assembly descended into chaos over the district’s handling of an on-campus sexual assault involving two students.
Since then, the northern Virginia school district has remained in the national spotlight for controversies related to the assault and its policies on the rights of transgender students.
During the public comment portion of the Tuesday meeting, parents in attendance reportedly spoke to the board about the assault, mask policies, and “critical race theory.”
Meanwhile, board members discussed the draft of a new “umbrella policy” meant to codify its “commitment” to “education equity” for students and staff.
Sexual Assault Looms Over Loudoun County School Board Meeting
The Loudoun County School Board had held meetings without an in-person audience for five months, following a disastrous meeting in June that ended with one father, Steve Smith, in police custody.
As Breaking Daily News has previously reported, Smith was arrested after sheriff’s deputies said he screamed and cursed at another parent during the meeting.
Earlier in the meeting, Smith told board members that their policy on transgender bathroom use had allowed his 15-year-old daughter to be sexually assaulted in a school bathroom by a student he later described as “a male in a skirt.”
The unnamed juvenile has since been convicted of the assault, and was later accused of a similar attack in a different Loudoun County high school.
Smith said he became angry when board members said they weren’t aware of any sexual assault on campus, and when another parent allegedly told him she didn’t believe his daughter was attacked.
He was charged with disorderly conduct, and branded by the National School Board Association (NSBA) as a “domestic terrorist” in an open letter to the White House.
Smith was convicted of the charge in August and received a suspended, 10-day jail sentence, contingent on “good behavior.” He later threatened to sue Loudoun County School Board officials and the NSBA for defamation.
After the tumultuous June meeting, parents who wished to address the board were made to wait in a line and enter the room one at a time, reports indicate. They triumphantly announced their return on Tuesday.
“We the people are back,” parent Erin Thomas told the board. “We asked you, the board elected to represent us, to put down your cellphones and listen closely.”
“The election you claimed was our motivation is over and we are still here,” she said, referring to the Virginia gubernatorial race in which Republican Glenn Youngkin won an upset victory with a campaign focused on educational policy.
“It is time for accountability,” Thomas said.
“Up is not down, left is not right, and everyone is fed up with the lies and gaslighting,” agreed another parent, Kristen Tapia.
Board Members Draft ‘Equity’ Policy
While parents at Tuesday’s meeting reportedly continued to criticize the district’s transgender policies and perceived embrace of “critical race theory,” board members were busy drafting an “umbrella policy” for their “commitment to equity.”
The policy draft, which was discussed but not adopted, doesn’t call for any specific, actionable goals. Instead, said district director of equity Lottie Spurlock, the proposal “speaks to [the district’s] commitment” to “ all of the equitable actions” contained in other recently-passed plans — like the controversial transgender policy.
“Yes, we have plans, we have frameworks, we have documents,” but the district “need[s] something that is sort of like the umbrella policy that would pull it all together,” she said.
The policy calls for Loudoun County Public Schools to create “a learning and working environment that is equitable and is responsive to and supportive of all” by fostering “positive academic outcomes” among “historically marginalized” groups.
Without specifically committing to any new strategy, the proposal calls for a racially diverse faculty with “equity literacy” training, an “equitable learning environment” for students, and an “equitable working environment” for staff.
A fourth plank of the draft simply calls for “commitment through policy,” and lists the district’s recently adopted measures on harassment, inclusion, racism, and transgender issues.
At the Tuesday meeting, board members considered adding a specific focus on literacy to the draft, though no amendments were made during the session.
Loudoun County School Board Doubles Down
In another recent episode that launched the northern Virginia district into national headlines, Loudoun County Public Schools were court ordered to reinstate a teacher who was suspended after he said he wouldn’t comply with the policy on transgender rights.
Byron Tanner Cross, an elementary school gym coach, told the board in a May meeting that it was “against [his] religion” to refer to students by their preferred pronouns. He was placed on administrative leave, but filed suit against the district in June.
A circuit court judge issued a temporary injunction allowing Cross to return to class only a week after his suspension. In November, courts ordered the teacher be permanently reinstated, without retaliation and with all mentions of the suspension scrubbed from his record.
If Cross continues to reject the district’s transgender policy — and if the draft unveiled on Tuesday is formally adopted by the board — he may find himself in hot water again.
The new proposal contains a “call to action for staff” to “denounce hateful language and actions based on […] gender identity.”
The bill also contains an “expectation that every LCPS employee, through the performance of their job duties and responsibilities, adhere to and comply with the ideals, commitment, call to action and values” laid out by the board.
While the new policy doesn’t specify the punishment for a faculty member who fails to “adhere and comply,” the Loudoun County school board appears to be doubling down on the controversial policies that have launched it into the national spotlight.