The effort to remove two School Board members appears to be over following a Circuit Court hearing this morning during which the petitions against Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) and Atoosa Reaser (Algonkian) were dismissed for lack of substance in front of a packed courtroom.
The hearing punctuates a year-long effort to remove School Board members for their involvement in a private Facebook group and support of progressive social policies in schools. The removal petitions garnered national interest as education became a flashpoint political issue during the 2021 gubernatorial election.
Retired Judge Thomas Padrick Jr. of the Second Judicial Circuit in Virginia Beach was designated to hear the cases after all Loudoun judges recused themselves. He ruled that because special prosecutor Joseph D. Platania found no evidence of neglect of office, the motion to quash the petitions was granted.
Platania, a prosecutor from Charlottesville, was appointed the special prosecutor for case against Reaser in April after Loudoun Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj (D) recused herself.
“By the way, there was no one really interested in being the Commonwealth’s Attorney in these cases,” Padrick joked.
Padrick ruled that Platania would handle both cases because the petitions were identical.
He also denied motions from both Fight for Schools, the group that organized the removal effort, and the NACCP to intervene in the cases.
“Fight for Schools and the NAACP are not elected officials. They come from good organizations,” he said, “But they’re advocacy groups.”
Fight for Schools’ attorney David Warrington argued that the group should be permitted to enter the case because prosecutors are elected officials and might themselves be targets of such removal efforts.
Following the ruling, Reaser and Sheridan were met with hugs from fellow School Board members Harris Mahedavi (Ashburn) and Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridget), Supervisor Juli Briskman (Algonkian), state Senator Jennifer Boysko (D-33), and Loudoun NAACP President Pastor Michelle Thomas.
Reaser and Sheridan delivered emotional remarks outside of the courthouse.
“I will never be able to put into words the toll that this process took on my family, and the families I serve. What I will tell you is this type of malicious court filing has a chilling effect on democracy,” Reaser said. “It discourages good people from stepping up and serving their community.”
Sheridan thanked the two dozen School Board supporters present, calling the removal effort a “horrible abuse of the system.”
“It’s time to get back to work, so let’s do that,” she said.
Thomas said that justice prevailed during the hearings.
“Today, we saw the law in action and the peoples’ resistance against unfounded voter suppression and action as well,” she said.
Fight for Schools Executive Director Ian Prior said that the group would likely wait for the conclusions of a special grand jury investigating the division’s handling of sexual assaults to take further action against the School Board.
He said that the group will pivot its focus to the race for Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, seeking the ouster of Jennifer Wexton (D).
“We’re in the process of filing with the Federal Election Commission to start spending money to defeat Wexton,” Prior said outside the courtroom. He said those filings would be completed later in the week.
“For our purposes, we’ve seen and made our displeasure with the School Board known. … We’re going to look at candidates who are most vociferously against the Loudoun County School Board. That goes for the Board of Supervisors as well.”
The group will continue to focus on the role of Superintendent Scott Ziegler and his administration in the handling of two sexual assaults in separate Ashburn high schools, each involving the same assailant. Ziegler has been the target of attacks throughout the removal campaign.
In his ruling, Padrick pointed to administrators’ potential culpability in the assaults, which were listed as grievances against School Board members on the petitions. He leveled a metaphor using police officers and city council.
“If a police officers negligently shoots somebody, the city council members aren’t going to get sued,” he said.