School Board Member Provides Information to Virginia Beach Schools’ Sexual Assault Investigation – The Virginian-Pilot
VIRGINIA BEACH — In February, news broke in Virginia Beach that a student at First Colonial High School had been sexually assaulted at school. The account was forwarded to administrators who started an investigation.
More than a month later, the investigation has made little progress. Investigators had found no evidence of an attack and the people who brought it to their attention — a Virginia Beach resident and school board member — had declined to identify the source of the allegation or provide any other details.
After the board discussed the matter publicly for the first time during its Tuesday meeting, board member Victoria Manning said she gave the name of the person who contacted her about the alleged incident on Wednesday morning. School board attorney Kamala Lannetti told the board that First Colonial officials had been spoken to, but no one could provide any information. Without further evidence, she said, the investigation has little hope of determining whether the report is true.
With this new information, the department can proceed with its investigation, but discussion of the investigation has revealed political tensions among some board members.
Through a Freedom of Information Act request, The Virginian-Pilot received emails between school officials and a Virginia Beach resident who contacted the school board on February 9 to report that she had heard yesterday that ” a rape between a transgender male and a woman” at high school. Emails show that the resident, when asked for the name of her source, said the same person who contacted her told her they had also contacted Manning. Before Wednesday morning, no one had provided the name of their source.
Manning texted The Pilot Wednesday afternoon that an investigator reached out to her last month for the “names of the parties involved.”
The investigator wrote, “I appreciate any name you can provide so I can assist everyone involved,” which Manning interpreted as a request for the names of those involved in the alleged sexual misconduct, which she does not know. She added that she believes the situation was “all bad rumor,” but gave the name of her source “without prompting.”
Emails show that within hours of receiving the resident’s email, Superintendent Aaron Spence told the school board that there had been “no allegations of rape or abuse of students at FCHS in recent weeks.” He wrote that the investigator needed to know who the resident heard it from.
According to the emails, the department initiated a “Title IX Complaints Process,” investigating all complaints of sexual harassment, sexual violence, and inappropriate sexual behavior at Virginia Beach schools, and reached out to the resident on Feb. 10 for that name.
First, the resident told the school board and department heads that her source had asked to remain anonymous and did not work for the schools.
In a later email, she wrote that the same person had contacted Manning before her and she would have the name “if what he told me is true.”
When the officer confirmed she didn’t give a name, the resident wrote on February 13: “I have reported this as my civic duty. I’m not refusing to give you the citizen’s name, but I’ve already told you that this person also contacted Vicky Manning, so she should have that information.”
She also wrote that she had heard the matter was “being kept quiet” until a concerned parent posted about it on Facebook, but she believed it would be investigated. In a previous email to the school board, she wrote, “Hopefully it was just a rumor.”
When Manning was asked for more information, she wrote that a community member contacted her to say they had heard “third/fourth hand” about the alleged attack.
She wrote in an email dated Feb. 14, “They said a friend of a friend is married to a FC teacher and said they heard a sexual assault took place and another teacher’s significant other did made the same allegation.” She told the coordinator that she asked for names and other information, but the person would not provide them.
She then said she “told that person that the school administration was investigating the allegations.”
On Tuesday after the public debate, Manning declined to comment further on the investigation as it is ongoing. On Wednesday, she told The Pilot that she believes the situation was a “political attack” on her by board member Kimberly Melnyk. Manning said it was “completely inappropriate” for board members to engage in a Title IX investigation, and expressed concern that Melnyk “appeared to know more about this situation than any other board member.”
In response, Melnyk said she didn’t know any more than the rest of the board. She said Tuesday that she was following up the investigation after the General Assembly received the resident’s email. Emails between the investigator, the resident and Manning had not included the full board. After reviewing the exchange, Melnyk emailed Manning, the school board chair and vice chair, Spence, and other department heads on Feb. 27 with a list of what she called “serious concerns” and questions.
She questioned why no name was provided and why, if Manning was first contacted, Manning told the person the allegations were being investigated. She also asked if two First Colonial teachers were aware of the alleged incident based on how Manning had explained who contacted them.
She also wrote, “Teachers and board members are required by law to be reporters, even if the information may seem small or insignificant.”
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“I have confidence in this department that we’ve done everything we can to investigate this, but I still feel like we’re missing a few pieces,” Melnyk said.
After hearing Manning provide investigators with the name of their source, Melnyk said few of those pieces had been found.
“I think it’s interesting that it took a pilot investigation to get this information,” Melnyk said. “However, I am pleased to have this missing piece to complete this investigation.”
This investigation was initiated as legislation and proposed policies for LGBTQ communities emerged throughout Virginia and the rest of the nation. Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration introduced guidelines last fall that would require parental consent for students to use their chosen names and pronouns and cite parents’ “fundamental rights.” It would also require students to use bathrooms that match their biological sex. Those model guidelines remain in limbo as the state reviews the thousands of comments submitted during the public comment period, though Virginia Beach students have been coming to school board meetings for several months to urge the board to reject the guidelines.
Kelsey Kendall, email@example.com