- The Washington Times
Friday, January 14, 2022

Three parents have filed suit against Loudoun County Public Schools over the district’s crackdown on who is allowed to speak or even attend in-person regular school board sessions — restrictions that constitute a violation of Virginia open meetings laws, the plaintiffs contend.

The parents — Megan Clegg, Megan Rafalski and Adam Rafalski — are represented by a conservative legal group that filed suit in state court last week against the school board and Superintendent Scott Ziegler.

The plaintiffs accuse the defendants of repeatedly breaking Virginia’s open meetings law and, consequently, running the school system as a kind of personal fiefdom deaf to the concerns of parents and taxpayers.

“They are changing the rules meeting by meeting, which is unfortunate for parents who want to have input,” said Victoria Cobb, president of The Family Foundation which is backing the parents. “This is not simply to send a message to Loudoun County, but to all school boards who think they can conduct business out of the public eye.”

LCPS said it does not comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit is rooted in a contentious June 22 school board meeting at which more than 240 people were scheduled to address the board in support or disapproval of issues ranging from critical race theory ideology spreading through the curriculum, to COVID-19 policies and, in what proved the most tumultuous matter, school policy that opened all bathrooms to “gender fluid” students.

One of the parents who spoke at that meeting, Scott Smith, is the father of a girl who was sexually assaulted by a 14-year-old “gender fluid” boy in the girls’ bathroom at Stone Bridge High School. School board members and Mr. Ziegler insisted then that they were unaware of any assaults occurring in school restrooms, but later emails indicated otherwise.

Video from the meeting of Mr. Smith being tackled by deputies and arrested as he shouted, “my daughter was raped!” went viral and kicked off months of heated disputes in Loudoun County between progressive school officials and angry parents and taxpayers.

The school board cut short public comments after the crowd erupted in support following an “impassioned” address from former state Sen. Dick Black, with more than 200 people still slated to speak, according to the lawsuit.

With chants of “shame on you” raining down, school board members adjourned the meeting but members of the public remained in the room and began an impromptu process of allowing speakers who were scheduled to address the board to do so to the crowd, the lawsuit and videos show.

Then an altercation broke out to the side of the school board meeting room and Mr. Ziegler announced participants were now involved in an “unlawful” meeting and they would be arrested if they did not leave, according to the suit.

Another Loudoun County parent, Jon Tigges, objected to Mr. Ziegler’s ruling on First Amendment grounds and eventually he, like Mr. Smith, was arrested and the room cleared.

The school board then “resumed the public meeting without members of the public present, and without inviting members of the public back into the public meeting room,” the lawsuit said. “No further opportunity was provided for any member of the community to be present for the initially public meeting.”

The board then spent five hours in what Ms. Cobb contends was a clearly illegal secretive government move.

“We want school business to be open and transparent to parents,” she said.

Since then, the school board has continued to violate Virginia open meetings laws, the lawsuit claims.

“The board now routinely only allows one member of the public at a time to be present in the large meeting room to speak for exactly one minute and then they must leave,” the lawsuit said.

Ms. Cobb acknowledged government bodies need to put some kind of boundaries on public speaking portions to make meetings manageable, but the restrictions Loudoun County has adopted, she said, are extreme.

• James Varney can be reached at jvarney@washingtontimes.com.

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