A Virginia mother has decided to take legal action against Fairfax County Public Schools because she believes the district did not take the assault and battery of her son seriously or do enough to keep him safe after he suffered physical and emotional injuries.
Taylor Brock’s son, a seventh grader, was assaulted on the school bus by a female student.
After exhausting all school district options for keeping the girl away from her son, unsuccessfully pushing for a harsher consequence for the girl, and being unable to find mental health support for her son, Brock is now looking for a lawyer to take legal action against the school district’s “careless” handling of the incident.
John Whitbeck, a lawyer who specializes in school litigation, told The Epoch Times that parents are increasingly turning to the courts to resolve issues with schools.
“There’s a tremendous increase in litigation,” he said. “When have you ever seen a superintendent of a local school district, like Loudoun County, be indicted? What’s happening right now with this, with parents asserting their rights, is an extraordinary situation.”
Whitbeck was referring to Fairfax County’s neighboring district, Loudoun County Public Schools, where former Superintendent Scott Ziegler was charged with three misdemeanor counts following an investigation into how the school district handled sexual assaults at two Loudoun County schools in 2021.
The Assault and Alleged Racial Word
In the bus assault of Brock’s son, a 60-second video captured by another student showed a portion of the incident, which took place on Jan. 23.
The video starts in the middle of an altercation between the two students, with the female student, who is black, seemingly accusing the boy, who is white, of doing or saying something she didn’t like. Their statements are only partially audible.
Near the end of the video, the girl grabs the boy’s throat and pushes him against the bus seat.
Brock said her son returned home in tears and had red bruising on his neck. She immediately went to the police to make a report and got a two-week protection order.
“No one responded back when I sent the video,” Brock said, referring to the school board, adding that no one from the school initially reached out to her about the incident.
Because Brock received no calls from the middle school administrators about the attack and the protection order, she said she had to go to her son’s school to finally talk directly to Craig Herring, the school principal.
Herring told her he would follow the school’s policy in this instance, but according to Brock, the school officials did not take even the basic steps to keep her son safe, like informing her son’s classroom teacher of the assault and protection order, even though the division superintendent, Jesse Kraft, told Brock they had informed the teacher.
Brock said it’s not fair that the girl gets to stay with her friends and ride on the same bus while her son has had to switch schools, and although the bruises around his neck have healed, the emotional strain is still there.
“I think it also hurts my son to feel like no one really cared that this happened to him,” said Brock. Because she wanted to bring attention to the negligence, Brock consulted with her family and decided to go to the media.
The Epoch Times reached out to Whitman Middle School, Fairfax County Public Schools, and the school board for comment.
Although the district officials did not respond to The Epoch Times, in a Feb. 16 message to families about the incident, Whitman Middle School administrators wrote that “media reports do not tell the full story, and FCPS is unable to share specific details due to federal student privacy laws,” and “we began a full investigation” the day the incident occurred.
Brock said that in the case of her son’s assault, the video should have left no question about what happened and should have motivated the school administrator to offer an apology. She said the girl should have received a longer suspension or been expelled and that a school board member should have responded to her emails.
When Brock questioned the vice principal, who was handling the incident, about why the girl was not expelled or given a harsher punishment, Brock said the vice principal told her it was because her son called the girl “black.”
Brock said she and the vice principal watched the school bus video footage together and that she never heard her son say “black,” but the principal said other students claimed that he did.
In the end, Brock said that even with video footage and two eyewitnesses confirming her son’s claim that he never said anything about the girl’s race, the school did not believe her son.
Brock obtained a second protective order, which was issued to keep the girl away from her son for two years, but it was not enforceable at school. Frustrated, she transferred him to a different school.
After the video of her son being assaulted and choked went public, over 100 parents messaged Brock, many from Fairfax County Public Schools, with stories of their own children being bullied at school and saying there was no meaningful response from the district to ensure safety, she said.
After the incident, school officials told Brock that by law, they could not tell her what consequences the girl would face for assaulting her son. A few months later at an April “diversion” hearing held by the district, Brock was able to ask the girl in the video a few questions.
Brock said the girl told her that she had received a short-term five-day suspension, half of the allowable maximum for assault resulting in bodily injury. The girl also had to take an anger management class once a week for three months.
FCPS Revising Bullying Policy
At a May 11 meeting of the Fairfax County School Board, Assistant Superintendent Michelle Boyd delivered a short presentation on proposed changes to the Student Rights and Responsibilities handbook.
For a student who bullies another student, including assault and battery, the new policy would mandate that school administrators use a “culturally responsive intervention.”
The school district did not respond to The Epoch Times’ request for clarification about the meaning of “culturally responsive intervention.”
However, according to the little information available about CRI from a California school district, CRI requires that teachers interpret a child’s behavior through the child’s culture, not the teacher’s, to prevent labeling the child or giving too harsh a punishment.
“Misreading behavior of diverse students can wrongly assess them as defiant, disabled or in need of special education and interpreting behaviors through one cultural lens contributes to disproportionality in special education and discipline,” according to the Oakland Unified School District (pdf).
Brock said she believes that even before the revision of the bullying policy, her son would have been expelled for doing what the girl did to him.
Whitbeck said he is seeing more cases in which different demographics of students get different consequences for the same infractions.
“One of the things we’re seeing is the application of disciplinary policies, different towards children of a specific demographic. In other words, children who are of one particular demographic are being treated differently than others,” Whitbeck told The Epoch Times.
“We have seen examples of school districts that are selectively applying these policies, and they’re punishing a student or a teacher, in one instance, but in another instance when it’s a student or a teacher of a different demographic, for example, they’re not punishing it,” Whitbeck continued.
Virginia Department of Education data shows an important change after the Virginia Legislature passed laws in 2020 to stop black and Hispanic students from being disproportionally disciplined.
According to the Virginia Department of Education, in the 2019–2020 school year, black students made up 21.9 percent of the total student population and accounted for 52.9 percent of short-term suspensions, while white students made up 47.6 percent of the student population and accounted for 28.9 percent of suspensions.
In 2020–2021, those numbers changed. Black students made up 22.1 percent of the student population and accounted for 26.1 percent of short-term suspensions, while white students made up 46.4 percent of the student population and accounted for 54.2 percent of short-term suspensions.
The ‘School-to-Prison Pipeline’
The fact that black students were more often disciplined at school was dubbed the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
A 2018 report by Virginia’s Legal Aid Justice Center (pdf)—based on data from the U.S. Department of Education—shows that black students, Latino students, and those with disabilities were suspended and expelled more often than their white peers. These punishments, along with arrests at school, often lead to students having a criminal record, according to the NAACP (pdf).
Democrats—who had full control of the Virginia Legislature and governor’s mansion in 2020—passed SB 3, which prohibited students from being charged with disorderly conduct during school, on buses, or at school-sponsored events, and SB 729 (identical to HB 257), which removed a requirement that school principals report student acts that constitute a misdemeanor, such as assault, to law enforcement.
Democrats insisted that misdemeanors including sexual assault be excluded from reporting requirements in House Bill 257. This change required that unless the offense is a felony, it’s up to the school principal to judge whether it’s worth reporting to the police.
In the 2022 legislative cycle, Democrats walked back part of a 2020 law, with a new bill that once again requires school principals to report any misdemeanor-level offenses to law enforcement, in large part because of the Loudoun County sexual assault case.