For the first time since John Brewer was suspended four and a half months ago, the beloved principal will walk back into Dominion High School on April 17.
He confirmed on Tuesday that he will accept the School Board’s offer to return as the school’s leader. In doing so, he agrees to a long list of conditions.
Superintendent Eric Williams had recommended Brewer be fired. The majority of School Board members voted last week to overturn that recommendation and instead follow the guidance of an independent hearing officer to reinstate him as principal, but with disciplinary measures.
The board technically voted to terminate Brewer and then rehire him for the same position on a probationary period, with contracts to be renewed annually, for three years. The stipulations also require the principal to comply with a “plan of improvement” as set forth by Williams.
The superintendent has not publically stated why he moved to fire Brewer, but it appears to stem from a letter of recommendation the principal wrote for former Dominion band director Brian Damron, which helped him secure a job in Duval County, FL. Damron is accused of making sexual advances toward a 15-year-old student there. He took that job in August 2015, seven months after he resigned from Dominion High School following allegations that he supplied alcohol to an 18-year-old student while at a conference in Norfolk.
Two years later, in January of this year, Williams petitioned the state to revoke Damron’s license, writing that more allegations had come to light, including that the teacher stayed in a hotel room multiple nights with that same student and that he sexually harassed several other students at Dominion. It’s unclear how much Williams or Brewer knew about those allegations against Damron in late 2014.
Three board members supported Williams’ recommendation to fire Brewer: Eric Hornberger (Ashburn), Brenda Sheridan (Sterling), and Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge). They have declined to comment on their vote.
School Board member Debbie Rose (Algonkian), whose district includes Dominion High School, explained her position to reinstate Brewer in a statement released Tuesday.
“After careful consideration of the entire hearing record, I concluded that while there were lapses in judgment for which consequences were appropriate, the evidence weighed in favor of offering Dr. Brewer an opportunity to return to his position on April 17,” she said.
The tense few months has put a spotlight on areas that need improvement within the school system, Rose added.
“In my opinion, this process has raised questions about the effectiveness of several LCPS policies, regulations, and practices,” she said, calling on a review of the “entire process.” “It’s a 360 review on everything that came through. That’s appropriate after any big situation—a division of any size should look back and say what did we learn and where can we do better?”
School Board member Tom Marshall (Leesburg), who chairs the board’s Personnel Committee, has also called for a review, in particular of how personnel decisions are made. He has said the board gets little information from senior staff members about their recommendations regarding employment decisions, and the board generally approves them unanimously without public discussion or debate.
Rose described the past several months for the Dominion school community as “uncertain, stressful, frustrating, sad.” But she said some positives have come out of it: “Students found their voice and learned to advocate for themselves. Parents and students from diverse backgrounds learned about each other and the challenges people in our community face to simply get to school and participate, much less excel. And, friends and neighbors engaged in civil debate over the issues involved, because we all want what is best for our students. These are positive outcomes, the take-aways, to help us heal.”
She continued, “While the focus has been on one person, Dominion is not defined by a principal alone. Rather, let it be defined by how the inclusive practices we heard so much about make all students feel welcome, safe, and respected. May Dominion High School continue to thrive as this chapter comes to a close and a new one begins.”