Fairfax Co. chairman calls for changes to notification process for arrested teachers

The chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is urging Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin and Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera to make immediate changes to current procedures to ensure that school systems are notified when an employee is arrested.

In a letter to Youngkin and Guidera, Chairman Jeff McKay said state leadership should evaluate “how Virginia handles information sharing regarding the arrest and/or conviction of persons between jurisdictions, with the state, as well as across state lines.”

The request comes weeks after school officials learned Glasgow Middle School counselor Darren Thornton, 50, remained employed for months, despite a November 2020 arrest for solicitation of a minor in Chesterfield County, because attempts to notify then-Superintendent Scott Brabrand bounced back to police. Thornton was arrested a second time on June 9, was placed on leave June 17 and was fired in August.

School officials and state lawmakers say the situation highlighted flaws in the notification process. Parents have urged the school system to consider more routine background checks on teachers and staff.

Superintendent Michelle Reid, who is in her first year leading the school system, said the county has expressed interest in having access to the FBI’s Rap Back program. The service allows organizations to get notified when there’s a change in criminal record information for people in certain positions.

However, the program isn’t expected to go live in Virginia until July 2025, McKay wrote in the letter. He urged the Youngkin administration to examine whether the state can begin using the service sooner.

Ahead of the next legislative session, McKay said, members of the General Assembly are drafting potential legislation that would address the process used when notifying a school system that an employee has been arrested or convicted. But McKay said because the issue is “pressing,” there should be steps the administration can take without waiting for new laws to get passed.

In the case of Thornton, police sent three emails to two different email addresses for Brabrand, which they said were provided to a police staff member by someone in the school division’s office. Since the incident, Superintendent Reid has contacted every law enforcement agency in Virginia to ensure they have her contact information, and required that they acknowledge they received it.

“In this modern, technology-oriented world, it is hard to imagine that the Commonwealth cannot simply provide all law enforcement agencies in the state (or even in the nation) with the correct contact information to use and procedures to follow for reporting criminal activity by school employees to our school divisions, ensuring the information is received and documented properly and in a timely fashion,” McKay wrote.

In response to a request for comment on the letter, a spokeswoman for Youngkin pointed to a statement from Bob Mosier, secretary of public safety and homeland security:

“Virginia State Police is enrolled in RapBack for their internal purposes with an expansion underway that will make this available to additional agencies by mid-2025. This expanded Criminal RapBack Information Systems (CRIS) project will allow others to enroll and will include a National Records comparison for accurate arrest updates.”

Last month, Fairfax County Public School leaders detailed findings from an independent third-party report into how Thornton remained in his job. Reid said the school system will do more to screen job applicants and ensure professional licenses are in good standing.

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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