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Loudoun parent group files recall petition against school board chair Brenda Sheridan

Loudoun County School Board chair Brenda Sheridan. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
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A Loudoun County parent group is formally seeking to recall school board chair Brenda Sheridan after gathering roughly 1,200 signatures on a petition for her removal — meeting the percentage threshold required under Virginia law.

Fight for Schools filed the recall documents in Loudoun County Circuit Court on Tuesday. The filing alleges that Sheridan (Sterling) violated state open meetings laws by joining two closed Facebook groups, along with other school board members, in which participants at times discussed issues including school closures and reopenings.

The filing also accuses Sheridan of violating the First Amendment rights of Loudoun residents and parents by shutting down public comment sessions and placing limits on who can speak at board meetings.

Finally, the filing accuses Sheridan of mishandling a sexual assault case that has stirred outrage and controversy in Loudoun County Public Schools, a Northern Virginia district of 81,000 just outside the nation’s capital. This past summer, Loudoun school officials transferred a high school student accused of sexual assault to another school within the system, where he allegedly committed a second assault. A juvenile court has sustained the charges in the first assault, which is equivalent to delivering a guilty verdict, and the youth is awaiting trial in the second incident.

The filing alleges that the youth was transferred “despite Sheridan’s at least general knowledge of the alleged assault.” Documents provided by the school system suggest she learned about the initial allegation on the same day it happened, but played a limited role in responding.

In a statement on Tuesday, Sheridan said: “My election was a mandate from those who came to the polls — three times — to choose me as their representative. Tuesday’s filing is the result of a fraction of those citizens signing a petition, whether they voted or not.

“Being a School Board Member is public service. It is not always easy or popular. The last 18 months have been particularly difficult for everyone — especially our students, families and staff. My decisions for the last ten-and-a-half years have been based on one guiding principle: doing the best I can for the students and staff of Loudoun County Public Schools.”

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Ian Prior, a Loudoun father and former Trump administration official who founded Fight for Schools, said in a statement that Sheridan’s stewardship of the school board led to “a complete breakdown in trust” between the board and the county. He and Fight for Schools have been vocal for months about their displeasure with the school system’s efforts to promote racial equity.

“From violating open meetings law to ignoring the school board’s code of conduct to neglecting to keep our children safe, all for her activist causes, Sheridan has been nothing short of a disaster,” Prior said.

The next step in the recall process is for the petition to go before a Circuit Court judge, who will decide if the case can go to trial.

Sheridan, a former Loudoun substitute teacher who now works as a security analyst, was first elected to the board in 2011, then again in 2015 and 2019. Her term is set to expire in 2023. As chair, Sheridan has presided over a tense period in Loudoun, as parents have grown increasingly angry over the school system’s handling of the pandemic, diversity and equity initiatives — such as holding bias trainings for teachers — and its adoption of a policy that allows transgender students to use bathrooms matching their gender identities.

More than 100 parents regularly sign up to speak at board meetings, and some sessions have grown rowdy. Sheridan ended public comment prematurely at a June 22 meeting when attendees disobeyed her requests to quiet down. That meeting ended in an arrest when one parent refused to leave.

The school system has since adopted stricter rules for public that limit each speech to 60 seconds and mandate that only 10 speakers can enter the Loudoun administrative building at a time. The new rules also dictate that only residents of Loudoun County, parents of Loudoun students and owners of businesses located in the county can speak at meetings.

Documents previously provided to The Washington Post by the school system show that Sheridan, along with other members of the school board, was made aware of the first sexual assault on the day it took place last spring.

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Superintendent Scott Ziegler wrote in a May 28 email to the board that “this afternoon a female student alleged that a male student sexually assaulted her in the restroom,” adding that the sheriff’s office was investigating.

“The School Board was not provided specific details or the names of those involved, and were advised by Dr. Ziegler that they would not receive updates regarding this matter, as it was being investigated by the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office,” Loudoun schools spokesman Wayde Byard wrote in a statement last month.

Earlier this fall, Fight for Schools filed a recall petition against another board member, Beth Barts (Leesburg), who resigned before her case could go to trial. The group has gathered enough signatures to file recall petitions against three more board members — Denise Corbo (At Large), Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridge) and vice chair Atoosa Reaser (Algonkian) — although it has yet to do so.

“Let this serve as a message to the rest of the board and Superintendent Ziegler,” Prior said Tuesday. “We’re still here and we’re not going anywhere.”