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Investigation finds 'systemic gaps' in FCPS hiring after counselor convicted of sex crimes allowed to continue working

Darren Thornton worked as a middle school counselor in Fairfax County despite a conviction for sex crimes against children.

LINCOLNIA, Va. — Tuesday, former Fairfax County Public Schools counselor Darren Thornton was in a Chesterfield County, Virginia courtroom on charges of soliciting prostitution, the allegations that got him fired this past summer from his job at Glasgow Middle School.

By law he should have been fired nearly two years ago when he was first charged and eventually convicted of sex crimes against children.

For that, Thornton was placed on probation. He had already passed a background check to get hired with Fairfax County Public Schools and kept working despite his conviction. 

"We need to understand what happened here and why it happened," said Kathleen Brown, a FCPS parent at a Tuesday night meeting at Glasgow Middle.  

At the meeting, the FCPS superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid shared with parents the results of an independent investigation into Thornton's employment.

The report found the district was never notified of Thornton's original arrest or conviction. 

And also found "several systemic gaps" in the FCPS hiring process "including on reference checks, verification of the appropriate license, and information sharing between jurisdictions" among other issues the superintendent says FCPS is addressing as quickly as possible. 

"One of the things that we have to do first is name that we have a concern, acknowledge that, look into it, and then follow recommendations that we know to be best practice moving forward," Dr. Reid told WUSA9. "I don't believe it's going to happen again here in Fairfax County Public Schools. And, I believe our families can trust us." 

"I really think Dr. Reid is on the right path here. But I think we have to persist," said Brown echoing the concerns of some other parents at the meeting. 

"To blithely say, 'No, this is not happening, it's not going to happen again here,' is very naïve," said Brown. "We have got to realize we've got all sorts of concerns about our kids and I think they're valid concerns."

One change Dr. Reid said she wants is regular background checks of current staff, after they are hired. But, she says she needs the commonwealth's help to make that feasible by enrolling in a FBI program called Rap Back.  

The superintendent also says she has already taken disciplinary action on school employees and more could be coming but she won't say who or what it was. 

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