LEESBURG, Va. (AP) — Three separate trials will be held next year to adjudicate charges against the former superintendent of a northern Virginia school system as well as the system’s primary spokesman.
Ex-Superintendent Scott Ziegler and spokesman Wayde Byard made initial appearances Tuesday in Loudoun County Circuit Court after indictments against them were unsealed Monday.
The indictments came from a special grand jury commissioned by Attorney General Jason Miyares that investigated the system’s response to two sexual assaults committed by a student last year.
Ziegler is facing three misdemeanor charges while Byard faces a single felony count of perjury.
Tuesday’s hearings were short and largely procedural. At the request of Special Counsel Theo Stamos, Judge James Plowman set two separate trial dates, in May and July, to hear the charges against Ziegler. Byard’s trial will be held at a date to be determined.
In a statement after Tuesday’s hearing, Byard said he plans to plead not guilty.
“At this point, I can’t address any specific charges because neither my attorney nor myself have been given any indication of what I’ve been alleged to do,” Byard said.
Indeed, the indictments provide almost no details of the charges against the two. In Byard’s case, the indictment simply accuses him of perjury on Aug. 2, 2022. School officials were being subpoenaed to testify before the special grand jury around that time.
Ziegler left the courthouse without speaking to reporters.
In a statement issued after the indictments were unsealed, Ziegler said the grand jury investigation has been “driven by partisan forces” and divided the county.
“It appears clear to me that this process was and is aimed at advancing a certain political agenda,” he said.
School officials had sought to quash the special grand jury investigation, calling it politically motivated. But the Virginia Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that it could move forward.
The three misdemeanors against him include one count of false publication, one count of prohibited conduct related to alleged retaliation against a teacher, and one count of penalizing an employee for a court appearance.
Two of those counts relate not to the sexual assaults that prompted the special grand jury probe but instead to a lawsuit filed by a special education teacher, Erin Brooks, who alleged that the school system retaliated against her after she reported a special needs student at an elementary school had sexually assaulted her. That lawsuit is ongoing.
The false publication charge relates to a statement Ziegler made on June 22, 2021. That’s when Ziegler attended a school board meeting and told board members that there hadn’t been any assaults in school bathrooms.
In fact, the first assault had occurred a month earlier in a bathroom stall at Stone Bridge High School, and emails show Ziegler had been made aware of it, according to a scathing report issued last week by the grand jury.
The report concluded that Ziegler lied to the public to cover up what occurred, and accused authorities of ignoring multiple warning signs that could have prevented the second assault, which occurred at Broad Run High School in October 2021 after the student was transferred there.
The student was later convicted of both assaults in juvenile court.