A new state law looks to prevent a repeat of a controversy that played out in Loudoun County in 2016.
The bill (HB438), which passed unanimously in the House of Delegates and the Senate, requires Virginia school boards to adopt a new policy that bars school employees from helping anyone who they may believe has engaged in sexual misconduct of a minor or student land a job. That includes writing letters of recommendations.
The Loudoun County School Board started working on the new policy language at its meeting Tuesday.
Del. David Reid (D-32), one of the bill’s patrons, said that states were directed to adopt similar legislation as part of Congress’ 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act. He said U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-8-VA) brought it to the attention of Virginia lawmakers that the General Assembly hadn’t yet adopted a law prohibiting schools from helping teachers suspected of sexual misconduct from getting a job elsewhere.
The bill’s language describes exactly a situation that played out in Loudoun County. School records showed that Dominion High School Principal John Brewer and Music Supervisor Michael Pierson wrote letters of recommendations that former Dominion band director Brian Damron submitted to Duval County Public Schools in Florida as part of his employment application. He was fired from that school district after a student claimed that he’d grabbed him and made repeated sexual advances toward him.
It was later learned that Damron was accused of making inappropriate advances toward students while he taught at Dominion. Loudoun County Superintendent Eric 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 has never been charged and has denied all allegations.
Loudoun’s School Board is considering going farther than the state requirements for the new policy and also prohibiting professional references for individuals who are believed to have engaged in sexual misconduct, child abuse or neglect.
The policy language the board is considering states that professional recommendations are not allowed if a person has “probable cause” that the applicant committed these acts against students or minors. Some students are 18 years or older, so are not minors under the law.
School Board member Debbie Rose (Algonkian) asked the board and senior staff members to use caution when using the word probable cause. “What rises to the level of probable cause? Is it simply a report to an administrator that something may be happening in their building or is it actual evidence or more? I feel this is too open ended right now.”
Kimberly Hough, assistant superintendent of the Department of Human Resources and Talent Development, said she believes the policy is fairly specific. “If anyone were confused about that they could seek advice from division counsel,” she added.
The School Board is schedule to adopt final policy language at its June 26 meeting. The new law takes effect July 1.