FAIRFAX, Va. — Next steps are underway to improve how law enforcement can better notify school districts in Virginia of school employee arrests.
Virginia Sen. Scott Surovell, D-District 36, is ready to introduce a bill he drafted that would enhance the current Virginia code on reporting school employees and adult students for certain offenses.
Surovell, who covers a part of Fairfax County, created the draft in response to a communication mishap that helped keep a Fairfax County middle school counselor on the job for months despite being a registered sex offender.
FCPS fired Glasgow Middle School employee 50-year-old Darren Thornton months after he was convicted earlier this year of soliciting sex from a minor. The incident first happened in October 2020 in Chesterfield County, just south of Richmond.
Thornton was still working as a counselor after his arrest because it was never communicated to the school district, according to Chesterfield County Police.
The police department tried to notify FCPS one day after his arrest but the message was never delivered since the emails that were sent bounced back.
In the draft, Surovell wants the Virginia Department of Education to "compile and make publicly available on its website a list of the email addresses and fax numbers identified by each division superintendent for the receipt of reports as set forth in § 22.1-68.1."
School divisions would have to provide the contact info at which the superintendent can receive the arrest information. Police must send it not only by email but via fax as well.
Critics including Surovell stressed the current rule is not specific enough.
"It's better if we had the information posted somewhere where the police can just go look at it, see it, cut and paste it and put it in an email and be done with it and send it by fax," Surovell told WUSA9. "We have better notification here instead of talking on the phone and figuring out where to send it. There is existing authority that says superintendents have to be notified, but it just doesn't specify exactly how or who, which created the problem in this situation."
Even though he expects to introduce within the next weeks, the draft is being reviewed by different stakeholders including the education department and School Superintendents Association.
The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police said it supports the change.
"The VACP supports the effort by Senator Surovell to ensure that the appropriate school officials are informed when a teacher or other school division employee is arrested for a serious sex offense," VACP Executive Director Dana Schrad said in a statement. "This will alert the school division when there is an employee charged with criminal behavior who should not be in contact with the children in our schools."
There is a new background check infrastructure that will be implemented in Virginia in 2025, but this bill, if passed, would implement changes by July.
During an event this week, Gov. Glenn Youngkin, R-Virginia, hoped everyone will work together to create a solution.
"I think there's plenty of blame to go around in this circumstance," Youngkin said. "Clearly, Chesterfield County Police did not fully inform Fairfax County about the state of this particular individual. I also believe Fairfax County needs to revisit their processes."
FCPS hinted a third-party investigation into the matter should be completed by early September, however, the district has not provided an update.
FCPS also has not answered if it has conducted a second round of background checks or matched employee names to arrest records.
Sign up for the Get Up DC newsletter: Your forecast. Your commute. Your news.
Sign up for the Capitol Breach email newsletter, delivering the latest breaking news and a roundup of the investigation into the Capitol Riots on January 6, 2021.