LINCOLNIA, Va. — Former Glasgow Middle School counselor Darren Thornton was arrested on child sex charges in November 2020. By law, the Chesterfield Police Department had to notify the Fairfax County Public School System of the arrest. But it appears the emails sent by the police department bounced back. The messages, obtained by WUSA9 through a Freedom of Information Act or FOIA, were never delivered.
"Today, upon further investigation, we learned that the emails did come back to that employee's spam folder as undeliverable," said a police department spokesperson in a statement. "It is unknown who our staff member spoke to in the school office in November 2020. Going forward, we will record that information as part of our process for making notifications.”
Thornton’s arrest came months after he was hired by the school system and even though he was convicted and sentenced to 5 years of supervised probation he remained on the job. Thornton was placed on admin leave after a second arrest in 2022 for allegedly soliciting sex online from adults. The Virginia Department of Correction has now launched an investigation into how he remained employed at the middle school despite his probation.
“It should have been picked up on an annual background check,” said Shawnna Yashar with the Fairfax County Parents Association [FCPA].
But WUSA9 has learned that’s not happening. According to Virginia Code, background checks are conducted only as a condition of employment. FCPA issued a letter with a list of demands including that the school system requires these background checks annually.
“Eight dollar and 25-cent background checks will be run on the entire school system just as a check. At this point to put parents’ minds at ease to put the community's fears at rest,” added Yashar, “It's a pretty simple thing to do for a school system that's got a $3.4 billion budget.”
WUSA9 contacted the VA State Board of Education, a spokesperson couldn’t tell us if they would consider changing the policy but said Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow will be reaching out to schools Friday to remind them of their responsibility to prevent sex offenders from working with children, including mandatory reporting.
Fairfax County Police are now asking anyone who may have had inappropriate conduct with Thornton to come forward.
Governor Glenn Youngkin responded to the discovery in a statement saying: "This is an astonishing revelation...For there to be a school counselor, middle school counselor, who was arrested for sex solicitation of a minor back in November 2020. And for that issue only now to be resolved, if those facts are correct, this is wholly unacceptable...This is the primary challenge we have right now is how do we keep our students safe in schools...Fairfax County Schools again, need to get out in front of this. And let me tell you, this is why we push so hard to get passed in this last budget for incremental funding, substantial incremental funding to put school resource officers back in schools all over the Commonwealth. This is how we're going to keep our kids safe. But the superintendents must do their job. I have just asked our State Superintendent of Schools Jillian Balow, to make sure that the Department of Education is reiterating the hiring policies, the background check policies, that are critical to make sure that we never ever have a middle school counselor that has been arrested for soliciting sex from a minor in our school system. It must stop and we're going to do our part at the State Department of Education."
Attorney General Jason Miyares also released a statement regarding the situation:
“I, like the rest of Virginia, am absolutely appalled to learn that a convicted sex offender was able to work with youth as a middle school counselor in Fairfax County. Schools have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their students and this means being diligent about who works with our youth. As we continue to learn facts about what happened here, I urge Fairfax County and all involved parties to immediately launch an investigation into the communications breakdown and mistakes that created this dangerous situation. I also pledge that my office and our resources are available for assistance."
“It’s clear that based on all that we know this is a breach of trust for our community,” Fairfax County School Superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid told WUSA9 Friday.
New Superintendent Reid moved to fire Thornton July 28th upon learning of his conviction. Now, that we know the police department emails never got to then Superintendent Scott Brabrand it is unclear if the school department ever knew.
Brabrand, who is now the executive director of the Virginia Association of Superintendents emailed WUSA9 writing in a statement, “I take these claims seriously and pledge my full cooperation with Fairfax County Public School’s investigation into this matter.”