‘Clearly a breach of trust’: Fairfax Co. superintendent after firing of convicted counselor

A day after announcing that a counselor had been fired after the discovery that he had been convicted of soliciting prostitution from a minor, the head of Virginia’s largest school system wants families to know that all staff have had reference and background checks ahead of the start of the school year.

In a letter to the school community Thursday, Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Michelle Reid said that once she and the School Board became aware of the “serious situation” at Glasgow Middle School, “we took immediate steps to dismiss the employee.”

The school system told WTOP that Darren Thornton was the school counselor employed at the middle school in Lincolnia.

Fairfax County Public Schools said that it has no information that any county students or children have been involved. Thornton was convicted outside of the county, Reid said in the letter. She didn’t specify when the counselor was fired or convicted.

Reid told WTOP’s Scott Gelman on Friday she learned about the counselor’s conviction on July 28 and soon after contacted the School Board, which asked for a full investigation. She also said she has asked the state to revoke the counselor’s license.

“There is a process in the Commonwealth to also petition for revocation of an educational license, and that we have petitioned the state. And additionally, I sent a personal letter on July 29, to the Virginia Department of Education licensure department, stating the concerns and listing the arrest for the counselor so that they were notified on July 29,” she said.

School starts Monday, and Reid said that steps have been taken to ensure the safety of students.

“I understand this news is clearly a breach of trust with our community. And I want our community to know that we’re taking the situation very seriously,” Reid said.

One of these steps is an independent review of what happened.

“It’s become clearer and clearer that our systems or processes in place, clearly, were not robust enough to support a different outcome,” Reid said, adding that from the interim report, it is not yet clear how the processes and structures have failed.

Reid said she’ll share the report’s findings and recommendations to the board and the community. In the meantime, the school system has completed full background and reference checks for all new employees this fall and review of the school system’s Child Protective Services, protocols, processes and training materials. There’s also extra guidance and counseling staff at Glasgow Middle School.

WTOP’s Scott Gelman contributed to this report. 

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Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

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