New law proposed after Fairfax Co. counselor convicted of sex crime kept job
FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. - A Fairfax County guidance counselor kept his job after being convicted of sex crimes.
Now, a new law in Virginia could prevent that from ever happening again.
The bill, introduced this week, is intended to be a stopgap measure until Virginia overhauls its background check system in about two years.
Lawmakers proposed the legislation after Darren Thornton was convicted of soliciting a minor for prostitution, but kept his job as a counselor at Glasgow Middle School in Lincolnia for nearly two years.
Fairfax County Public Schools says it only found out about the first arrest after Thornton was arrested again over the summer for the same crime.
The arresting agency, Chesterfield County police, said they had emailed the school district in 2020 but apparently had the wrong email address.
A bill introduced by Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) would beef up accountability for these notifications.
"Basically, it requires the superintendent of public education to maintain a list they put out in public, so law enforcement knows where to send these notices," Surovell said. "It requires the notices to either be sent by certified mail, so there’s a return receipt, so you can see it was either received or it wasn’t received, or by fax and email, so you get fax confirmation."
READ MORE: Fairfax Co. Public Schools counselor investigation exposes widespread problems
Surovell said his bill also requires that every person arrested for sex offenses have their employment checked by the Virginia Employment Commission.
So far, the senator says he’s seen bipartisan support.
"The attorney general’s office gave me some feedback and I made some changes for them," he said. "The chiefs of police thought it was okay. The clerks of the court had some feedback, they made some changes. I suspect it’s going to have a pretty smooth sailing."
If the bill passes, it would become law in July, but Surovell said there’s a chance lawmakers would support an emergency clause — which means it could take effect before this school year is over.
In 2025, Virginia will overhaul its background check system to something called "Rap Back" which will notify certain employers when there’s a change in an employee’s criminal background.