FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. (7News) — There's a new push for annual background checks on all Fairfax County Public Schools employees that interact directly with kids.
This comes amid ongoing controversy over the case of Darren Thornton: a convicted sex offender who'd been working as a counselor at Glasgow Middle School.
Thornton has now been fired by FCPS, but not before he stayed under the radar for roughly 20 months after his initial arrest by Chesterfield County Police on Nov. 19, 2020.
RELATED: Police email about school counselor's 2020 sex crime arrest was never delivered to FCPS
Chesterfield County Police have said they tried to alert FCPS via email in 2020, one day after Thornton's arrest for solicitation of prostitution from a minor. The police department's records now show the attempted email notifications bounced back as 'undeliverable', but that discovery was not made until this week.
After that notification failure, Thornton continued working at Glasgow Middle, even through his subsequent conviction in March of 2022.
He registered as a sex offender in June of 2022, but was listed on the registry as "self employed."
"I was surprised this arrest took place in 2020 and it didn't show up in an annual background check. And then I found out the school doesn't conduct annual background checks on employees and counselors," said parent Shawnna Yashar, who has three kids in Fairfax County Public Schools.
Yashar is part of the Fairfax County Parents Association that's now calling on FCPS to enact a new policy that would require annual criminal background checks for all employees "who, as a function of their job, may have one-on-one contact with children".
"As a parent, I volunteer with a number of organizations, Girl Scouts, youth sports, my church, Sunday school, and I get my background checked before a lot of those," Yashar said. "At a minimum, the counselors and teachers and those that have one-on-one contact with students should be having background checks run annually. This is something that's routinely done in our community by several organizations."
SEE ALSO: Fairfax Co. leaders want 'more centralized' Va. reporting system after FCPS counselor case
7News spoke to FCPS Superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid last week, one day after she announced Thornton had been fired.
"I want to be very clear, there is nothing about this situation that is acceptable," Reid said.
She has brought in a third party to conduct an independent investigation into "both internal and external processes" to determine exactly how Thornton was able to continue working for a Fairfax County school nearly two years after his initial arrest in another jurisdiction.
During our interview last week, 7News asked the superintendent whether she would consider implementing more frequent employee background checks to try to prevent something like this from happening again.
"All of our employees upon hiring have background checks and reference checks, all of those safety checks," Reid said. "We are exploring a variety of options, I think, as we move forward based on this third party report, review, and recommendations in terms of how we might mitigate a situation like this coming forward in the future."
TIMELINE: Va. counselor Darren Thornton sex crime case, from hiring to firing what we know
In the case of Thornton, FCPS officials have said a background check was conducted prior to his hiring in August of 2020, but his arrest for a sex crime with a minor didn't happen until November of 2020.
Yashar said she believes annual background checks for employees that are interacting directly with students would act as a stopgap measure and an added layer of protection for students.
"We think that's prudent in a school system of this size, with a $3.4 billion dollar budget. We think that's something they should be doing on an annual basis to put minds at ease. To put parents minds at ease, to put students minds at ease, to put other teachers' minds at ease," Yashar said. "FCPS should be able to find the money to run these background checks."
The Fairfax County Parents Association is calling on FCPS to make several other changes as well: