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Virginia lawmakers react to Darren Thornton sentencing crash

The Virginia Department of Education said it is always interested in hearing ideas for improving the system to provide more protection.

WASHINGTON — Virginia lawmakers will likely propose legislation to help improve the way crimes are reported in all Commonwealth jurisdictions after a school counselor remained on the job despite being convicted of soliciting sex from a minor.

Sen. Scott Surovell, D-District 36, who represents part of Fairfax County, briefed the Virginia Department of Education on temporary solutions to create a more systematic approach to sharing arrest information with school divisions.

“We need to make it clear in law that the Virginia Department of Education must maintain a public list of where these notices should be sent, what email address, what phone number, and then law enforcement must notify the school division by e-mail and fax about this list.”

Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Dr Michelle Reid fired Glasgow Middle School counselor Darren Thornton, 50, nearly a month ago after learning he had been arrested and convicted of a felony sexual.

The school system admitted Thornton should have been fired when he was first charged with the crime in November 2020.

Police in Chesterfield County, just south of Richmond where the crime happened, said they tried to notify FCPS the day after the arrest, but their emails bounced.

Thornton stayed on the job even after he was arrested for a second time for allegedly soliciting prostitution in June.

The incident exposed a system that Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay described as a breakdown and a lack of Commonwealth oversight.

In a letter sent to the Fairfax County delegation this week, McKay urged a standardized reporting system to prevent a similar incident from happening again.

“The state code is so unclear on reporting requirements that it puts our children at risk,” McKay told WUSA9. “The fact that there are no better guidelines from the state, accountability, paper trail or anything else seems absurd when it comes to security of our children.”

On Thursday, the same day Dr. Reid responded in person to concerns and questions from parents at Glasgow Middle School, Virginia State Police arrested Thornton for sex offender registration violations. He was accused of lying about his professional status which listed him as “self-employed”.

Surovell recommended a centralized database for the VDOE asking the Superintendent of Public Instruction to send a letter to all school systems asking them to provide a designated email address and fax number for law enforcement inform them.

He said these were interim solutions while the Virginia State Police undergoes an overhaul of its background check database system. As part of approved legislation passed last year, there will be a new notification system in January 2025 that will alert school systems and other agencies to a person’s arrest after passing a criminal background check .

It can also help notify arrests across state lines.

“You’ll get up-to-the-minute information, and if that person is arrested two days later, instead of missing it, that information will automatically come through,” Sen. David Marsden, D-District 37, told WUSA9. “It’s like anything with technology. It just takes time to do that.”

Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares said his office is also investigating to see how the mistake involving Thornton happened in the first place.

“It’s part of our desire, my office, to make sure there’s both a sense of accountability, but also that entities learn where mistakes have been made,” he said.

RELATED: Fairfax Co. Parents Want Answers After Counselor Arrested, Investigation Underway

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