Ziegler and school officials have faced intense criticism for their response to the sexual assaults, which took place in May and October of last year. In particular, officials have been blasted for their decision to transfer the student assailant from one high school, where he assaulted a student in a girls’ bathroom, to another high school, where he assaulted another student in a classroom.
The grand jury report concluded that Ziegler was informed about the May assault on the day it happened, but that he later lied about his knowledge of the event during a June 22, 2021, board meeting. When asked by a board member that day whether Loudoun has records of “assaults in our bathrooms or in our locker rooms regularly,” Ziegler replied with a falsehood, the report states.
Ziegler said, “To my knowledge we don’t have any record of assaults occurring in our restrooms.” A witness told the grand jury this statement was a “baldfaced lie.”
Ziegler previously said that he misunderstood the question at the school board meeting. He said he believed the board member was asking whether the school had records of sexual assaults committed in bathrooms by transgender or gender-fluid students.
The grand jury concluded in its 91-page report that Loudoun administrators badly mismanaged the sexual assaults because of incompetence and a lack of interest in the events. But the grand jury also found there was no “coordinated coverup” of the assaults between Loudoun school officials and the school board, as some had alleged. Instead, the school board was mostly kept in the dark about the assaults, the grand jury found.
Ziegler had served as interim superintendent for about half a year before being named to the permanent position in June 2021. A former special-education and social studies teacher, he began working for the Loudoun school system in 2019, as assistant superintendent for human resources and talent development. He oversaw the district’s transition from online-only learning during the pandemic to four days a week of in-person instruction for about 40 percent of its 80,000 students, receiving praise for his leadership from Board Chair Brenda Sheridan (Sterling).
But Loudoun schools drew unfavorable attention from Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R), who made the district a target during his campaign last year. He ordered the grand jury investigation during his first days in office and, this spring, attempted to force all nine members of the school board to seek reelection in November, which would have shortened the term of most of them.
Several Loudoun parents, education activists and county leaders across the political spectrum shared messages late Tuesday supporting Ziegler’s firing. Many had previously called for his removal along with that of other school leaders.
“I fully support the School Board’s decision to fire the Superintendent in light of the recent grand jury report. I hope this is the first in efforts across agencies to review and revise policies, including cross-agency communication,” Loudoun County Supervisor Juli Briskman tweeted Tuesday night.
Ian Prior, a Loudoun parent and founder of the conservative parents-rights group Fight for Schools, tweeted that Ziegler’s firing was not the end. “It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning,” he said.
And Loudoun4All, a left-leaning parent group that advocates for social justice and racial equity in the school system, released a statement praising Ziegler’s termination and calling for the termination as well of Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman, who was criticized in the grand jury report for failing to communicate well with the school system about the assaults.
“Loudoun4All believes that while the School Board firing Dr. Ziegler was an important step toward accountability for the failures revealed in the Grand Jury report, it cannot be the only step,” Loudoun4All wrote in the statement. “For his failure to take the initial charges of assault until he was forced to by the public outcry, for his failure to cooperate with LCPS, and for his refusal to provide the charges to LCPS, Loudoun4All feels that Sheriff Chapman also needs to resign.”
Chapman did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Wednesday.