After a raucous School Board meeting on June 22 resulted in one man dragged out in handcuffs and Loudoun in national headlines, the county Sheriff’s Office refused to provide additional security at the following School Board meeting, emails show.
During the public comment portion of that meeting, as the board fielded comments on teachings about racism and then-proposed protections for transgender students, Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) repeatedly advised the raucous audience of over 200 people to maintain order. The boardroom was ultimately cleared by deputies, and one parent was arrested.
But as school administrators stepped up security measures and limited public access for its next meeting on Aug. 10, the Sheriff’s Office did not have a presence in the building.
Newly obtained emails show that Superintendent Scott Ziegler had requested the same security footprint that had been provided for the June 22 meeting. In a letter to the administration, the Sheriff’s Office defended the decision to pull protection, saying that the district “unilaterally” decided to limit public comment and implement security measures such as a metal detector, without consulting the Sheriff’s Office.
In a letter to Ziegler dated Aug. 6, the school division’s Chief Operations Officer Kevin Lewis said that Sheriff Mike Chapman and his department received national criticism for the handling of the event, and that the public should have been allowed to speak.
“School Board is firing people up and calling LCSO to clean it up. The plan for the Aug 10/11 puts LCSO in the same position and I won’t be put in that position again. School board is being dismissive of people they don’t agree with,” Lewis recounted Chapman’s remarks.
The Sheriff’s Office leaders told the administration the agency would not provide uniformed officers for the meeting, but that officers would be “in the area” for a quick response.
Earlier correspondence between the administration and the Sheriff’s Office shows that Ziegler and his team had requested a “robust protection plan”: three deputies inside the administration building, a canine explosive sweep, a five-person quick reaction force on site, undercover deputies in the public assembly area at the administration building, and a civil defense unit and a special operations team on standby. Chapman’s office described the request as “extraordinary.”
Two meetings took place between the administration and the Sheriff’s Office on July 29 and Aug. 5 to discuss security plans.
In a response to the Sheriff’s Office’s letter, Ziegler emailed Chapman on Aug. 6, saying that intelligence shared during both planning meetings indicated potential security threats for the Aug. 10 School Board meeting, including that hotel rooms were booked by “those wishing to demonstrate at the meeting on August 10.” He also detailed robocalls that had been made to community members calling for demonstrations at the meeting, and that board members had received threatening messages.
“Reviewing the news footage from the June 22 meeting, it is clear that law enforcement is needed in the board room and on campus at the administration building. I am disappointed in your decision not to station deputies inside,” Ziegler wrote.” Since early 2021, LCSO and LCSO deputies have worked together to provide security in the board room—I am unclear as to why this is now unacceptable. If there is a need to clarify the roles of LCSO, LCPS Safety, and Security, and private security, please let me know. Again, given our organizations’ history of collaboration, I am unsure why this joint effort is a problem.”
Multiple board members said that given threats received prior to the Aug. 10 meeting, the lack of on-site assistance from the Sheriff’s Office was disconcerting.
Beth Barts (Leesburg) received an onslaught of threats and hateful messages since becoming the subject of a removal effort due to her involvement in a private Facebook group, called the Anti-Racist Parents of Loudoun County, where critics charge board members violated closed-door meeting laws for elected officials. Barts attended the Aug. 10 meeting remotely—citing personal safety concerns—and stated she was not attending the meeting from her home. Barts told Loudoun Now that she had grown accustomed to the Sheriff’s Office’s presence at meetings.
“The sheriff never worried about such optics in the past, so I find it puzzling that despite repeated pleas by the Superintendent during the five days leading up to the August 10th meeting, he chose to provide no uniformed deputies at all,” Barts said.
Kraig Troxell, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman, said that the department does not disclose details about operational plans.