By Josh Hetzler, Legal Counsel, The Founding Freedoms Law Center
The Founding Freedoms Law Center (FFLC), the legal arm of The Family Foundation, recently sued the Loudoun County School Board alleging violations of Virginia’s open meetings laws after it kicked parents out of its June 22, 2021 meeting and continued to prevent them from fully participating at subsequent meetings. After parents tried everything else to get the Board to listen, we decided a lawsuit had become necessary.
We are pleased to report that we have won our case!
Late Friday afternoon after a two-day trial, Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge James Plowman determined that the Loudoun County School Board had in fact violated Virginia’s open meetings law at its June 22, 2021 meeting when it removed over 600 members of the public from the meeting room and then continued to conduct business and take votes without allowing the public back in. The judge made clear that any time a public meeting is held in person, the public must be allowed access to the entire meeting, excluding certain statutory exceptions. FFLC, in partnership with attorney Kevin McCandlish from the law firm WhitbeckBennett PLLC, brought the case on behalf of three courageous Loudoun parents Megan Clegg, and Adam and Megan Rafalski.
“We are thrilled Judge Plowman vindicated our clients as well as all the parents of Loudoun County,” said Victoria Cobb, President of The Family Foundation. “Public school parents in Loudoun County have seen time and again that the views of parents are unwelcome. School boards across Virginia are now on notice – you can’t ignore parents without paying the price.”
This ruling comes on the heels of Governor Youngkin’s unsuccessful effort to amend a bill to allow Loudoun voters to choose an entirely new school board this fall. Meanwhile, it is yet to be seen what impact, if any, the court’s ruling will have on ongoing efforts to recall some of the current Loudoun School Board members.
Many of the parents who came to the June 22 meeting were in attendance to address the “transgender” bathroom policies, including the parents of a high school student who was sexually assaulted in her bathroom at school. Some were also there to voice support for LCPS teacher, Tanner Cross, who had essentially been fired simply for speaking to the Board in opposition to that proposed policy.
One of those parents was our client, Megan Clegg, who had signed up to address the Board during the public comment time but was denied the opportunity to speak after the Board abruptly ended public comments, with around 200 speakers still unheard. Soon afterward, while the Board was still in recess, LCPS Superintendent Dr. Scott Ziegler declared, without warning, that the entire public gathering was an “unlawful assembly” and that everyone in the room would be “subject to arrest” unless they left the building immediately. Citizens were not permitted to return when the Board recommenced its meeting. For many subsequent meetings, the Board continued to keep parents out of the room during public comment time, eventually prompting our lawsuit.
Mr. Jon Tigges, one of two who was arrested at that meeting, chose not to leave the public meeting room as a peaceful protest against what he perceived was an illegitimate order from the Superintendent designed to silence parents and citizens. FFLC, along with attorney Chris Kachouroff, is also defending Mr. Tigges against a charge of unlawful trespassing. A trial is set for May 16.
We are grateful for this victory, and we want to thank you for your prayers and continued support. We will continue to look for strategic ways to hold our governing bodies accountable to parents and citizens.