Va. bill would close loophole that allowed Fairfax Co. counselor to remain employed despite conviction

Law enforcement and court officials would be required to notify Virginia school systems any time a school employee gets arrested under a bill introduced ahead of the 2023 General Assembly session.

The proposed legislation, Sen. Scott Surovell said in a news release, would also require that the agency arresting someone to verify the arrested person’s employment information.

The bill comes months after a Fairfax County middle school guidance counselor remained employed by the state’s largest school system, despite an arrest and conviction.

“The idea that somebody’s got to make a phone call to find out where to send something — that’s when mistakes can happen,” Surovell told WTOP.

Attorney General Jason Miyares and Gov. Glenn Youngkin are “in general OK with the concept,” Surovell added.

Even though Darren Thornton was arrested in November 2020 for solicitation of a minor in Chesterfield County as part of an online sting operation, he kept his job at Glasgow Middle School despite being convicted and ordered to register as a sex offender. When he did, he identified himself as being self-employed.

Chesterfield County police’s attempt to contact then-Superintendent Scott Brabrand were sent to several incorrect email addresses. Thornton was arrested a second time in June 2022 and was then fired.

Surovell’s proposal, according to the news release, aims to eliminate future communication breakdowns by requiring that a report be filed whenever someone with a Board of Education license is convicted of specific crimes.

Superintendents will also have to give the Department of Education updated contact information to receive the reports. In the case of Thornton, emails to Brabrand bounced back, but the department didn’t notice.

A hearing for the proposed law will be scheduled once the assembly reconvenes on Jan. 11. If approved by lawmakers and Youngkin, it would go into effect in July, before the 2023-24 school year begins.

WTOP has contacted Fairfax County Public Schools for comment on the proposed law.

In 2021, Surovell spearheaded legislation that provides any changes in criminal record to public and private companies that conduct criminal background checks. That process occurs as part of the FBI’s RAP Back system, Surovell said, which Virginia State Police will begin using July 1, 2025.

Once the state begins using the RAP Back system, the legislation will be moot, Surovell said.

“A lot of people were kind of dumbfounded that somebody could be arrested for solicitation of prostitution, and both the notice required when they’re arrested didn’t get completed, either by law enforcement or the circuit court clerk, and the notice required after conviction didn’t get completed,” Surovell said. “And then to have the person picked up a second time on the exact same thing two years later — a lot of people are just mystified that can happen, given the systems we have set up.”

The high-profile case left some Fairfax County parents feeling uneasy and calling for stricter protocols. As part of a report into the incident, the school system said there were “systemic issues,” and that greater collaboration between law enforcement and school system leaders is needed.

Surovell represents parts of Fairfax, Prince William and Stafford counties.

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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