There’s one man who received far more press coverage in Loudoun than President Donald Trump this year. That’s John Brewer, a past Principal of the Year award winner who was nearly fired after 13 years at the helm at Dominion High School.
One year ago this month, Brewer was placed on administrative leave. Three days into 2017, parents at Dominion launched a GoFundMe page to raise money for the principal’s legal defense. The next day, it was made public that Superintendent Eric Williams had recommended that the principal be fired.
Williams never publically said what prompted that decision, but it came as the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office launched an investigation of Brian Damron, who served as Dominion’s band director from July 2012 to January 2015 under the leadership of Brewer. The Sheriff’s Office’s investigation was prompted by reports from a 15-year-old student in Jacksonville, FL, that Damron had made sexual advances toward him. Duval County Public Schools in Florida hired Damron in 2016 after he abruptly resigned from Loudoun County Public Schools.
School records showed that Brewer and Music Supervisor Michael Pierson wrote letters of recommendations that Damron submitted to Duval County Public Schools, as part of his application. It was later learned that Damron was also accused of making inappropriate advances toward students while he taught at Dominion. Superintendent Williams reported this to the Virginia Department of Education in January 2017, two years after Damron resigned and a month after he placed Brewer on leave, to ask that his teaching license be canceled. Damron did not object to the cancelation of his license, but noted, “My signature on this document does not constitute an admission of guilt of any allegations or charges…”
The Sheriff’s Office’s investigation into Damron did not result in any criminal charges.
Hundreds of Dominion parents, students and teachers packed School Board meetings for four months, urging the board to reinstate their principal. They shared stories of Brewer going above and beyond his job description to mentor students, encourage staff and create a tight-knit school community. Some parents went so far as to accuse Williams of making Brewer the scapegoat in the controversial situation and called for the superintendent’s resignation.
School Board members held two four-hour closed session meetings about Brewer in March. After one vote to delay their decision, they finally took a vote on Brewer’s employment status March 20. Technically, the board voted to terminate his position and, a minute later, voted to rehire him as principal effective April 17. Upon Brewer accepting the offer, he agreed to forfeit his continuing contract status and continue as principal on a probationary period for three years.
Brewer was required to undergo a plan of improvement as set forth by Williams. He was also required to: take child abuse and neglect reporting training; constitutional law training related to religion in public schools; provide appropriate and timely communication with supervisors, the human resources department and Public Information Officer Wayde Byard; recognize and report incidences of inappropriate relationships between students and staff; and be removed from any and all clubhouse activities. Clubhouse is a homeroom program Brewer established to connect with academically at-risk students at Dominion.
Brewer was brought back into the fold in April with a welcome back party put on by parents and students at a restaurant in Cascades. “We’re an even stronger community now. I mean look at this place,” PTO president Amy Curran said, scanning the restaurant, noisy with Dominion families chatting with one another and, of course, their principal making his rounds to each of the tables. “It’s like a wedding reception.”
Now eight months later, School Board member Debbie Rose (Algonkian), who represents the district in which Dominion High School sits, said things have been fairly quiet, which is how the community prefers it. “The school year has been back to normal,” she said.