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Federal proposal requiring Mountain Valley Pipeline completion halted



WASHINGTON — A permitting reform proposal by West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin that would have required completion of the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline was halted Tuesday.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer removed the measure from a catchall spending package late in the afternoon after Manchin released a statement calling on him to do so.

The U.S. Senate then voted 72-23 to advance the spending bill, which would provide billions to aid Ukraine’s war effort, help communities throughout the country recover from natural disasters and keep the federal government funded through mid-December.

The Manchin plan had drawn a widespread rebuke from most Republicans, a few Senate Democrats, including Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, and a large group of progressive U.S. House members, all of which could have put passage of the government funding package at risk before the current law expires on Friday at midnight.

Federal climate deal could force completion of Mountain Valley Pipeline

Schumer said in his floor speech that he’d work with Manchin and others “to have conversations about the best way to ensure responsible permitting reform is passed before the end of the year.” West Virginia Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito said language could be attached to the National Defense Authorization Act, the annual policy bill for the Pentagon.

Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley said in a statement removing Manchin’s permitting reform bill from the government spending package was the “right move” and urged leaders to keep it off “any future ‘must-pass’ legislation.”

“Many would agree that our permitting system could be improved,” Merkley said. “If the Senate is going to take up these questions in the future, it must be with a deliberative committee process and a robust, stand-alone floor debate that gives the American people, and especially those most impacted by this legislation, a full opportunity to weigh in.”

Kaine issued a statement shortly after the vote saying that “like so many Virginians, I’m relieved we defeated the attempt to greenlight the Mountain Valley Pipeline without normal administrative and judicial review. Now we can move on and fulfill our responsibility to fund the government.”

Virginia Sen. Mark Warner said in a statement that the U.S. “still need(s) to take sensible steps to reduce European dependence on Russian energy while maintaining an affordable and resilient supply here at home” and said he intends to continue work on reforms “that protect our national and economic security, but also respect concerns voiced by those communities most impacted by these projects.”

Kaine pipeline objections

Many lawmakers had urged the removal of Manchin’s permitting reform bill from the must-pass government funding package for weeks. Earlier this month, more than 70 progressive Democrats signed onto a letter that asked party leaders to keep Manchin’s bill out of the funding package that must become law before Oct. 1.

Kaine has repeatedly rebuked the bill, saying its requirement of approval for the Mountain Valley Pipeline “could open the door to serious abuse and even corruption.”

The 303-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline, which is intended to carry natural gas from the Marcellus shale fields of West Virginia to southern Virginia, has been a major point of contention in Virginia for years. Facing numerous court challenges from opponents, Mountain Valley has repeatedly lost federal approvals and remains unfinished, with most of the incomplete portions of the line lying in Virginia’s Giles, Craig and Montgomery counties.

“The pipeline runs through Virginia for 100 miles and takes property from landowners, but I was not consulted as a deal was struck to approve it and thus not given an opportunity to share my constituents’ deep concerns,” Kaine said in a statement earlier in the day announcing he’d vote against the package.

Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine speaks on the U.S. Senate floor about legislation from West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin that would force completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline.


Kaine then urged Senate leaders to pass a funding package “free of the unprecedented and dangerous MVP deal.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, also rejected the permitting reform part of the package, saying from the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon before Schumer removed the bill that it was a “poison pill.”

“What our Democratic colleagues have produced is a phony fig leaf that would actually set back the cause of real permitting reform,” McConnell said.

Meanwhile, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and 17 other Republican attorneys general including Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares sent a letter to U.S. Senate leaders Tuesday opposing Manchin’s energy permitting bill on the grounds that it “would effectively create a backdoor Clean Power Plan,” overrule “states’ traditional authority to set their own resource and utility policies, and upset the careful balance of state and federal authority that has been a cornerstone of the Federal Power Act for nearly a century.”

Government funding

The overall spending package, if approved by the U.S. Senate and U.S. House this week, would fund the government through Dec. 16. The measure must become law before Friday at midnight, when current federal spending authority expires, to avoid a funding lapse or a partial government shutdown.

That is a scenario Democratic leaders wanted to avoid, especially with just weeks to go before the November midterm elections.

The spending package, released just before midnight Monday night, would provide billions in funding to ease home heating and cooling costs for low-income households, pay for community block disaster grants, and continue recovery efforts related to the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire that damaged much of New Mexico this spring.

It includes $12 billion in Ukraine aid, the third installment this year, bringing the total U.S. investment in the country’s war effort to about $66 billion.

Congress approved a $13.6 billion relief package in March, just weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine, and another $40 billion package in May with broad bipartisan support.

The Biden administration requested this tranche of Ukraine assistance, funding a total of $11.7 billion.

U.S. lawmakers also opted to include $35 million “to respond to potential nuclear and radiological incidents in Ukraine, assist Ukrainian partners with the security of nuclear and radiological materials, and prevent the illicit smuggling of nuclear and radiological material.”

The package does not include $22.4 billion in COVID-19 funding or $4.5 billion for the monkeypox outbreak, both of which were requested by the White House and broadly rejected by Republicans.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said Tuesday he believes leaving out that public health funding is “shortsighted.”

Leahy said he would “revisit” the issue in December, when Congress is supposed to agree on a full-year funding package.


The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, March 26, 2022 (Photo by Marisa Demarco / Source New Mexico)


Avoiding a shutdown

The short-term spending bill, sometimes referred to as a continuing resolution, or CR is needed to prevent a government shutdown when the current spending law expires at the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

The stopgap is intended to give lawmakers and the Biden administration more time to agree on how much the federal government should spend during the fiscal year 2023, which begins on October 1, and where any increases in funding should be directed.

Bipartisan agreement on total discretionary spending levels, $1.512 trillion for the current fiscal year, would allow the 12 panels in charge of an annual government spending bill to begin drafting legislation to fund dozens of departments and agencies.

President Joe Biden’s budget request for the upcoming fiscal year asked Congress to approve $795 billion for defense programs and $915 billion for nondefense programs, which includes spending on the Homeland Security, Justice, and Veterans Affairs departments.

Current law provides for $782 billion for defense spending and $730 billion for nondefense funding.

If Congress and the White House cannot agree on the bills before their new December deadline, they can pass another short-term spending bill extending into 2023.

However, that type of funding strategy poses problems for many federal departments, including the Pentagon. Since the short-term stopgap spending bills continue current spending levels and policies into the new fiscal year, federal departments typically can’t start new programs or boost spending in areas they targeted for additional funding in the budget request.

by Jennifer Shutt, Virginia Mercury

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Governor Youngkin announces budget language to halt prosecution of COVID-shutdown related fines, penalties, and begin reimbursement process



On December 6, 2022, Governor Youngkin issued an Executive Order directing enforcement agencies, boards, and commissions to report all fines, fees, and suspensions related to the COVID-19 shutdown violations. The Governor also announced he would direct agencies to halt further collection and enforcement action in his upcoming budget to be delivered on December 15th. The budget will also direct the Secretary of Finance to work with agencies to develop a reimbursement process for individuals and businesses who paid unjust COVID-19 fines and fees.

“I am today requiring a statewide review of COVID-19-related penalties imposed by the Northam administration. The fact that businesses are still dealing with COVID-19-related penalties and fines is infuriating. Livelihoods are on the line,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin. “In the previous administration, we saw our government shut down businesses, close our schools, and separate us from each other. While we can’t undo the damage done during the Northam administration, we are taking action going forward to end COVID-era draconian overreach.”

“I look forward to working with the General Assembly to address this, forgive COVID fines and fees and restore unjustly suspended licenses,” Governor Youngkin continued.

The budget language will not apply to instances where the violation was in relation to practices, guidelines, rules, or operating procedures intended to protect the health and safety of individuals, patients, residents, and staff of hospitals, nursing homes, certified nursing facilities, hospices, or assisted living facilities.

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Virginia is expected to received at least $16.8 million; prohibits deceptive and youth-focused marketing of e-cigarettes



On December 6, 2022, Attorney General Jason Miyares announced that Virginia has joined a bipartisan coalition of 33 states to secure a $434.9 million settlement from JUUL Labs, widely recognized as the leading e-cigarette manufacturer, resolving allegations of nationwide efforts to lure America’s youth into using “vaping” products. The settlement resolves claims that since 2015, JUUL has used social media marketing campaigns, easily concealable e-cigarette designs, youth-friendly flavors, and other means to addict a new generation of Americans to nicotine.

“I am proud of my office’s efforts to address the harm caused in this case nationwide and here in Virginia. Our consumer protection section will continue to work tirelessly to hold bad actors accountable when they disregard the health and welfare of Virginians, particularly our youth,” said Attorney General Miyares.

Under the terms of the settlement, JUUL is required to pay Virginia at least $16.8 million, with the first payment of $1.58 million to be paid after the settlement is approved in court. The settlement prohibits JUUL from engaging in a variety of misleading, youth-focused marketing tactics, including:

  • Marketing to youth
  • Funding education programs
  • Depicting persons under age 35 in any marketing
  • Using cartoon advertisements
  • Selling flavors not approved by FDA
  • Allowing access to websites without age verification on the landing page
  • Advertising in outlets unless 85 percent of the audience is adult
  • Using paid influencers

Attorney General Miyares previously announced the agreement in principle in September.

Attorney General Miyares filed the settlement as a proposed Consent Judgment today in the City of Richmond Circuit Court. The settlement requires court approval.

The following states joined Virginia in the settlement: Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. The investigation was led by Connecticut, Texas, and Oregon, with support from Virginia and other states.

Click here to read the settlement.

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Scathing grand jury report on Loudoun schools assaults and more Va. headlines



The State Capitol. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)


• A former political consultant for ex-congressman Scott Taylor avoided prison time by pleading no contest to three misdemeanor charges tied to a petition fraud scandal from Taylor’s 2018 election campaign.—Virginian-Pilot

• A grand jury report released Monday blasted the Loudoun County school system’s handling of a pair of sexual assaults by the same student last year that became a major campaign issue for Republican politicians. “Had any one of a number of individuals across a variety of entities spoke up … then the sexual assault most likely would not have occurred,” the report said. “But nobody did.”—Associated Press

• Gov. Glenn Youngkin is looking to overhaul the state government’s procurement process, drawing criticism from Democratic legislators who say they’re not being kept in the loop on what he has planned.—Richmond Times-Dispatch

• Youngkin’s commission on antisemitism released a final report Monday with recommendations that “focus on blunting perceived attacks on Israel in Virginia’s education system, doubling down on Holocaust education and strengthening discrimination protections for Jews.”—VPM

• A coalition of Virginia faith leaders plan to lobby the General Assembly for more mental health funding for crisis receiving centers.—Washington Post


by Staff Report, Virginia Mercury

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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At this Virginia agency, bones of the dead are people in need of homes



Elizabeth Moore, Virginia’s state archaeologist, with a high school student around 2017. (Courtesy Elizabeth Moore)


Elizabeth Moore and Joanna Wilson Green are kind to their guests – even though these companions are very old and very dead.

Moore and Green, state-employed archaeologists, tend to Virginia’s homeless human remains, typically bones and pieces of bones.

To Moore and Green, these bones aren’t artifacts. They are human beings. Guests. People who need to find their loved ones.

The lonely bones reside in the repository of the women’s employer, the state Department of Historic Resources in Richmond’s Museum District.

“Our goal would be for all of our guests to go home,” said Green, speaking with Moore in a small meeting room at the agency. “I would love to retire and have no human beings in residence here. That’s my goal. Whether or not we can achieve it is another question entirely.”

The way Moore and Green treat these bones – the very way they talk about them – reflects a change in the ethics of many modern archaeologists, scientists once widely regarded as little more than grave robbers.

According to Jack Gary, director of Colonial Williamsburg, archaeologists have moved toward this more respectful approach over the past decade or so.

“That is the norm,” Gary said.

Archaeologists study history by analyzing what they find underground, from spear points to skeletons. For a long time, these digs were conducted with little respect for human remains and their living relatives.

Joanna Wilson Green, a state-employed archaeologist, deals closely with human remains. (Rex Springston / Virginia Mercury)

But in the 1990s, state and federal laws aimed at protecting the dead prompted a major attitude shift. One federal law, for example, requires that Native American bones, in many cases, go not into museum displays but back to their tribes.

More recently – over the past 20 years or so, Moore said – archaeologists have been getting even more respectful, not just because of the law but because they believe it’s the right thing to do.

Furthermore, experts say that showing respect for human remains and their relatives helps archaeologists because these relatives often have oral histories, records, and other materials that can aid the research.

“It makes better archaeology,” Moore said. “Why would you go out and antagonize an entire community and not have their information and perspective to inform your work?”

Moore, 60, a cheerful, brown-haired woman, is Virginia’s state archaeologist. She is in charge of, among other things, the repository – made up of lots of shelves and boxes – that holds the bones.

Green, tall, and athletic-looking at 53, deals most often with the bones, making sure they are properly removed from the ground and seeking homes for them if possible – say, with an Indian tribe or other descendants.

To say Moore and Green are protective of the bones in their charge is like saying a mother grizzly can be attentive.  About 150 sets of remains are stored among about 6 million artifacts, such as arrowheads, pipes, and ceramic pots. The public can see many pipes and pots, but no outsiders – including the Virginia Mercury – can see the bones. You can’t even see the boxes the bones are in.

“That’s a good example of how things have changed,”  said Gary of Colonial Williamsburg, which has a similar policy. “We don’t want to trivialize it or sensationalize it, so we don’t show any human remains.”

Green said, “These are not artifacts. They are not objects. They are not things that sit in museums in dusty boxes. They embody the culture, society, and emotional connection of people who are still living, and you have to treat them differently. …It would be the same if I had the bones of your mom or your dad in my care.”

A slow change

Experts say that many museums and academics are also demonstrating this greater respect, but it hasn’t seeped entirely into the general public.

“There are still people around who think nothing of having human skeletons in their homes and displayed on their fireplace mantels,” Moore said. “It will take a long time to change those attitudes.”

People sometimes inherit human remains – Grandpa might have dug up some bones long ago on his land – and don’t know what to do with them. What they can do, Moore said, is contact her.

It’s illegal in Virginia to disturb a burial site, Moore said.  It’s also illegal to buy or sell human remains, although possessing them is not against the law.

If you find human remains, you should call the police. If the police don’t want the bones because they’ve determined the remains aren’t evidence of a crime, they become guests of Moore and Green.

Human remains turn up at construction sites, at archaeological digs, in eroding stream banks, and sometimes in yards.

“As people are planting their gardens and putting in patios and things like that, it’s not infrequent that people find bodies in the backyard,” Moore said.

A paved-over church site

Two Virginia cases illustrate the rise of respect for the dead and their descendants: the discovery of human remains at Colonial Williamsburg in 2020 and the discovery at Virginia Commonwealth University in 1994.

Archaeologists at Colonial Williamsburg, a living-history museum, are excavating the former site of First Baptist Church, one of America’s oldest churches founded entirely by Black people. Colonial Williamsburg bought the site in the 1950s and later paved over it.

The dig began in the summer of 2020. The scientists discovered the foundation of the church’s original meeting house, then late that year, found graves. From the beginning, the dig team has kept close contact with church members – possible relatives of the dead – and the discovery of the graves triggered another consultation. The church members decided they wanted the dig to continue.

Connie Matthews Harshaw, a member of a historic Williamsburg church, stays in close contact with scientists who are finding graves there. (Courtesy of Connie Matthews Harshaw)

“That’s a big difference right there in how we operate today,” Gary said. “In the past, we probably would have just continued excavating without involving the community in the decision-making process.”

Gary’s team has found more than 50 graves, and they’re still digging. Gary said that the archaeologists removed a full skeleton from one grave and bone fragments from two others. The remains are now at the College of William and Mary for study.

Scientists there hope to determine the age, sex, and possibly race of the dead. Bone samples have also gone to the University of Connecticut for DNA analyses. That work could link the dead to living people, although not to specific individuals.

Plans call for the three sets of bones to be reburied in their graves. Colonial Williamsburg also plans to build a reproduction of that early church building and tell the story of those long-ago worshippers.

“Colonial Williamsburg is now doing the right thing,” said Connie Matthews Harshaw, a First Baptist member who stays in close contact with Gary.

Years ago, Harshaw said, “There was just a total disregard for the Black population, and the level of importance that was attached to it, I think, has now come full circle. We are happy to see that.”

Today, church members want to know about the people who were covered by pavement decades ago.

“For the descendant community, this has been more of a healing process than it is anything else,” Harshaw said. “It is hopeful and something they thought they would never see in their lifetimes.”

Bodies in a well

Northwest of Williamsburg, the VCU case also shows a clear change in attitudes. Construction excavation at the Richmond school’s Medical College of Virginia campus in 1994 uncovered an old well holding the remains of more than 50 people, including children.

The bones are believed to be the remains of Black cadavers robbed from graves in the 1800s for use by teachers of anatomy and surgery. Bones of multiple people were mixed when taken from the site, displaying the cavalier attitude toward the dead more common in prior years.

The bone pit generated a few news stories but otherwise remained “largely unaddressed,” VCU acknowledges.

More recently, VCU launched the East Marshall Street Well Project to find ways to study, rebury and memorialize the remains. A council of people who, in effect, serve as descendants is investigating West African burial practices, said Kevin Allison, a VCU senior executive who oversees the project.

The remains were housed for years at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. In 2019 they were returned to Richmond in archival boxes wrapped in colorful Ghanaian fabric called kente cloth. The bones – the people –  were honored with prayer, music, and speeches at several sites, including the Department of Historic Resources, where they were housed for a while.

Virginia Commonwealth University health sciences students bow their heads beside boxes of human remains during a prayer on Nov. 25, 2019, at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources in Richmond. A ceremony was held to mark the return of the remains from the Smithsonian Institution to Richmond. The remains, probably of Black bodies stolen from graves in the 1800s, were found in an abandoned well on the VCU campus in 1994. Scientists and others are treating human remains with greater care today than just a decade or two ago. (Kevin Morley / VCU)


“It was a crowded, emotional, heartwarming event,” Moore said.

For the record, photos of those adorned boxes of remains were allowed because representatives of the well project gave approval. The remains are now at VCU for study.

VCU’s Allison said those involved in the project are bent on “ensuring that we provide appropriate respect and reverence to these individuals, particularly considering their history.”

‘The very large error of that approach’

Today, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources’ stored remains – some 1,000 years old or more – include partial skeletons but mostly bone parts because Virginia’s acidic soils eat away at bones.

“It’s rare that we get a whole skeleton,”  Moore said.

Or, as Green put it, ”I think most of our guests are not intact.”

The bones are kept in acid-free archival boxes. In another move to treat the dead better, the department recently got a $9,870 federal grant to help obtain more-respectful containers. Details are being worked out.

In popular culture, Moore and Green are serious about their work but not prudish about the dead. Green loves mummy films and scary-movie actor Boris Karloff. Moore is okay with plastic skulls at Halloween.

“They are not representing a real person,” Moore said.

Among those upset with the work of archaeologists over the years, African Americans and Indians have been particularly critical because of the scientists’ oft-callous handling of remains.

“I think for a very long time, human remains were viewed as artifacts, just like arrowheads and other things,” Green said. “And it has been a very recent development that our profession has realized the very large error of that approach and has tried very hard to address it, not just in our interactions with some communities but in our own behaviors.”

Archaeologists are still working to change perceptions, she said. “It will probably be a couple more generations before there’s a comfort level there. That’s one of our biggest jobs.”


by Rex Springston, Virginia Mercury

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Virginia Elections Board certifies midterm results with no drama



A voting precinct in downtown Richmond on Election Day in 2018 (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)


Virginia’s Republican-controlled State Board of Elections certified the midterm election results in a drama-free, unanimous vote Monday.

The vote, which occurred with little discussion and no public comments objecting to the procedure, finalizes a disappointing election cycle for the state GOP.

The party gained one additional seat in the state’s congressional delegation after state Sen. Jen Kiggans, R-Virginia Beach, defeated Democratic incumbent Rep. Elaine Luria in the Hampton Roads-based 2nd District. But Republican challengers came up short in two other competitive contests as Democratic Reps. Abigail Spanberger and Jennifer Wexton both won their reelection bids in the 7th and 10th districts, respectively.

Certification of election results is usually a formality, but it’s become more of an open question in some states after failed efforts to block certification of President Joe Biden’s victory over former President Donald Trump in 2020.

En route to sweeping last year’s elections for governor, attorney general, and lieutenant governor, Republicans campaigned on “election integrity,” a buzzword Democrats have criticized as a nod toward unfounded election conspiracy theories.

Though some Republican-aligned local activists have challenged the state’s electoral processes this year, there’s been little evidence so far that Republicans in the upper reaches of state government are willing to wield their power to try to sway election outcomes.

The five-person State Board of Elections has three Republican members, and they’ve mostly brushed aside activists who attend public meetings to suggest the state’s voting system is susceptible to widespread fraud.

Documents the Virginia NAACP released last week related to the “election integrity unit” created by Republican Attorney General Jason Miyares showed state lawyer Joshua Lief, who works closely with the State Board of Elections, occasionally telling election integrity activists the law simply wasn’t on their side.

Just before the November 8 election, state lawyers defeated a longshot legal effort to block vote-counting machines and instead force election officials to count them by hand.


by Graham Moomaw, Virginia Mercury

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Special Grand Jury releases report on Loudoun County Public Schools



A Loudoun County judge ordered the release today of the special grand jury’s report on Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS). While the Office of the Attorney General requested the special grand jury, this report is the product of the Loudoun County citizens randomly selected to serve as jurors. The special grand jury was empaneled on April 7, 2022, by the Loudoun County Circuit Court upon motion of the Attorney General acting within the authority granted according to Governor Glenn Youngkin’s Executive Order 4.

Attorney General Miyares issued the following statement on the report:

“This special grand jury was the epitome of professionalism. In the face of intense public speculation, the members were incredibly engaged, worked tirelessly, and spent countless days away from their families and jobs to conduct a thorough investigation into Loudoun County Public Schools,” said Attorney General Miyares. “I encourage everyone to read their report and look forward to the positive change in LCPS resulting from their work.”

The special grand jury has not been discharged.

Click here to read the report.

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