A joint committee of Loudoun County School Board members and the County Board of Supervisors is offering recommendations to the system’s school resource officers on how to handle sexual assault cases.
A joint committee of Loudoun County School Board members and the County Board of Supervisors is offering recommendations to the Virginia school system’s school resource officers on how to handle sexual assault cases.
It comes in the wake of the recent announcement of a federal Title IX investigation into the school system and a grand jury report in December that found Loudoun County schools had mishandled two highly-scrutinized cases that led to the firing of former Superintendent Scott Ziegler .
The committee has recommended that the school board require trauma-informed training for SROs and review whether officers must have parents present or parental consent when officers interview students.
The recommendation came as officials reviewed the current memorandum of understanding between London County schools and the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office and Leesburg Police Department.
Currently, when SROs investigate sexual assaults on minors, officers gather the bare minimum facts of the allegation to determine whether a crime has been committed, leaving out detailed questions. They then immediately refer the case to Special Victims investigators.
“We also have detectives in our Special Victims Unit who specialize in child exploitation, human trafficking, internet crimes against children and other specialist subjects to ensure we are well prepared to deal with all types of sexual abuse and assault cases,” Lieutenant Colonel. Christopher Sawyer told the committee Monday.
“I don’t think we have a systemic problem with sexual violence (or) sexual assault. There are 82,000 students and we’ve had one, two, maybe three high-profile cases,” said guidance counselor Juli Briskman.
But Briskman pushed for the new Memorandum of Understanding to “require SRO training in trauma-informed police strategy and interviewing techniques specifically designed to better serve minors potentially involved in sexual assault or domestic abuse situations.”
Sawyer responded, “You know, we’re all at practice. We practice as much as we can. (We’re) not against having more practice.”
He requested some leeway in the training timeframe due to changing schedules and officer positions and a lack of available training courses.
The committee discussed much longer recommendations on parental consent for student interviews.
“I honestly think it’s scary that law enforcement can be able to interview students. You just have to watch the movie about the Central Park Five, where parents tried to come in to talk to their kids and they couldn’t come in and they ended up being charged and almost thrown in jail,” Briskman said in the discussion. , questioning, detaining, searching students without any parameters.”
She acknowledged that extreme cases may require such interviews, but would like those circumstances to be described in the document.
“While I have great sympathy for Supervisor Briskman’s concerns … there are emergencies that arise. There are students who bring guns to school and start shooting,” said Supervisor Kristen Umstattd. “I think law enforcement needs the flexibility to deal with situations that are serious and immediate without asking parents’ permission or administrators’ permission.”
In the end, they unanimously passed a motion for the school board to “review the language” surrounding parental consent and attendance for student interviews
The Loudoun County School Board and Sheriff’s Office will now review the recommendations.
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