Virginia school system investigates possible mishandling of sexual assault complaints

Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent Martha Grimes announced Tuesday that she is forming an “independent review” of the school system’s handling of allegations of sexual assault.

The announcement comes the same day that Fairfax County Schools Superintendent Laura Abel announced the creation of an independent review of sexual assault allegations against Principal Julie Fitzgerald. The county’s Board of Supervisors authorized $60,000 in extra funding to fund the additional investigation after Fitzgerald’s preliminary findings were rebuked by county attorneys.

Abel announced the review at a school board meeting Tuesday morning, which WRC-TV reporter Marc Levy caught on video.

News broke last week that a Fairfax County student had filed a sex assault complaint against Fitzgerald but was sent home from school the next day. Within days, the investigation began into the school system’s handling of the complaint and an additional complaint by another Fairfax student against the principal.

Grimes’ announcement reads:

I am seeking additional guidance from the Virginia Board of Education regarding this process. I have also initiated an independent review by a nationally recognized expert in school reform. The terms of reference for the independent review have not yet been released. At this time, no timeframe has been established for this review to complete its work. The review will involve an extensive solicitation for outside consultants that are comfortable and knowledgeable with school reform.”

Previously, Grimes had said she would have preferred to handle the independent review in-house, but that she would “give it serious consideration.”

Grimes’ announcement comes after Fairfax County’s School Board voted 5-2 Monday to hire the Washington, D.C.-based firm Act Now Legal to advise the board in its investigation into Fitzgerald’s role in the disclosure of allegations of sexual assault against an 11-year-old student.

According to the firm’s website, it has worked in the past with professional organizations including the District’s Office of the Public Defender and the Kentucky Family Council. The firm also has experience with federal, state and local boards.

The firm’s director of law administration, Natalia Hubek, was elected the recently retired chairman of the Loudoun County School Board last month. The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, meanwhile, voted last month to add an additional $100,000 to its school facilities budget to hire an independent counsel to probe claims of misconduct in that county’s building program.

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