Parents, students, alumni and current and former staff of Tuscarora High School were rocked this week after allegations of a sexual assault in the football team’s locker room came to light, and members of the community have been critical of the school administration's lack of communication and transparency.
Leesburg Police Department officials have confirmed they are investigating an incident at Tuscarora, but they aren't disclosing any details of the inquiry. The Times-Mirror first reported the sexual assault allegation on Tuesday. Sources with knowledge of the incident say a football player was held down by other players while another inserted something into the victim on Oct. 1.
According to an LCPS statement, the school became aware of the incident Oct. 5. Five days later, after the Times-Mirror report and ensuing outrage on social media, the school system issued a statement to the public.
Tuscarora parent Laura Jane Dimbylow said she first heard about the incident through a Facebook post in an unrelated community group Oct. 5. She thought Wednesday’s LCPS statement was vague and that some kind of communication would have been more appropriate the day the incident was reported.
Dimbylow, whose daughter attends Tuscarora, said the delayed response was especially upsetting because three weeks ago she also found out about a potential security threat at Lucketts Elementary, where her son goes to school. In the Lucketts situation, parents were notified of the potential threat almost a month after it was reported to the school.
“As far as communication, it was just kind of like a one-two punch,” Dimbylow said.
Dimbylow said she understands the challenges facing the school system because social media moves so quickly, but she said any statement would have been helpful, especially once the police became involved.
Another Tuscarora parent, Vicki Radan, said on social media she found it unacceptable, as a football parent, to hear about the incident on Facebook after a weekend of rumors rather than directly from the school system.
A former Tuscarora teacher who spoke with the Times-Mirror on the condition of anonymity to speak openly about her experience at the school said friends of hers who still teach at THS were first briefed about the incident as a staff on Oct. 10. The direction from Tuscarora Principal Pamela Croft to teachers has been “squash any conversation” about the incident in the classroom, the former teacher said.
The teacher said allegations of sexual assault are atypical at Tuscarora, but how the incident has been handled was expected. In her years at Tuscarora, the former teacher said lack of communication from Croft was common.
“I understand it’s a very touchy subject, especially with the climate in our culture with sexual assault now, but there’s still a courtesy to a body of your faculty and staff who would like your direction and leadership on how exactly to handle the conversations obviously happening in the classrooms and hallways with the students,” she said.
That said, the former teacher also noted the school has a duty to protect the privacy of all students under federal law, so it can be difficult to know how transparent to be. But, she said, faculty needed direction on how to help students who are also still processing what happened.
Croft followed her Oct. 10 address to the school community with a call Thursday clarifying the incident was isolated to a few players, and “is not indicative of the Husky football program, its players or Coach Wheelbarger and his staff.”
The principal also told the community it takes time to investigate the incident in a way that is fair and ensures proper consequences are carried out for those involved.
Tuscarora will play Freedom High School as scheduled Friday at Freedom. Croft said it was “highly inappropriate and unfair to penalize all students of the program for the alleged actions of a few.”
Superintendent Eric Williams sent out a statement Friday afternoon — one week after the incident was reported — saying if the allegations are true, the actions will not be tolerated and those involved will face disciplinary consequences, including possible expulsion.
He also said there is no indication more than three players were involved, and there is no threat to students.
"Based on the information available to LCPS, including information received from the Leesburg Police Department, we are confident that students are safe and that normal school activities can continue. Should circumstances change, this decision will be reviewed," he said.
Victims of sexual assault can contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or the Loudoun Abused Women's Shelter at 1-703-777-6552 for support.