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Loudoun Co. schools take a look at how SROs deal with sexual assault


A joint committee, made up of Loudoun County School Board members and County Board of Supervisors, makes recommendations to the system’s school auxiliary officers on how to handle cases of sexual assault.

A joint committee, made up of Loudoun County School Board members and County Board of Supervisors, makes recommendations to Virginia school system aid 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 December grand jury report that found Loudoun County schools mishandled two highly investigated cases that led to the firing of former superintendent Scott Ziegler. .

The committee recommended that the school board require trauma-informed training for SROs and consider whether or not officers should have parental presence 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 the Leesburg Police Department.

Currently, when SROs investigate child sexual assault, officers gather the minimum facts of the allegation to determine whether a crime has been committed, omitting detailed questions. They then immediately refer the case to Special Victim detectives.

“We also have detectives in our Special Victims Unit who specialize in child exploitation, human trafficking, internet crimes against children and other specialized topics to ensure we are well prepared to handle all types of sexual abuse and assault cases,” Lt. Colonel Christopher Sawyer told the committee Monday.

“I don’t think we have a systemic problem with sexual assault (or assault). There are 82,000 students and we’ve had one, two, maybe three high profile cases,’ says supervisor Juli Briskman.

But Briskman urged the new memorandum of understanding to “require SRO training on trauma-informed police tactics and interview techniques specifically designed to better serve minors who may be involved in sexual assault or domestic violence.”

Sawyer replied, “You know, we’re all for training. We train as much as we can. (We are) not against more training.”

He did, however, ask for space in the time frame of the training due to changing rosters and functions of officers and the scarcity of available training.

The committee deliberated much longer on recommendations about parental consent of student interviews.

“I find it frankly terrifying that law enforcement could potentially interview students. You just have to watch the movie about Central Park Five where parents tried to get in to talk to their kids and they couldn’t get in and ended up getting charged and almost thrown in jail,” Briskman said in the thread. “Those are the images I have in my head when I see a blanket statement that law enforcement is allowed to interview, question, detain and search students without any parameters.”

She did acknowledge that such interviews may be necessary in extreme cases, but she would like those circumstances to be noted in the document.

“While I deeply sympathize with Supervisor Briskman’s concerns…emergencies do arise. There are students who bring guns to school and start shooting,” protested supervisor Kristen Umstattd. “I think law enforcement officers need the flexibility to handle serious and immediate situations without seeking parental or administrator consent.”

In the end, they unanimously passed a motion for the school board to “revise the language” around parental consent and presence for student interviews.

The Loudoun County School Board and the sheriff’s office will now review the recommendations.

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Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.