RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A bill that would change how Virginia schools are notified of certain employee arrests and convictions received bipartisan support from a state Senate panel Thursday.
The proposal from state Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) would require law enforcement to inform local school division superintendents of any employee arrests for a felony or Class 1 misdemeanor within two days.
Sen. Surovell presented the legislation Thursday to the Virginia Senate’s Education and Health Committee’s public education subcommittee, telling the five-member panel that he proposed the bill in response to a situation that played out over the summer.
A former middle school counselor in Fairfax County, Darren Thornton, was able to keep his job nearly two years after being charged with soliciting prostitution from a minor in Chesterfield County, according to authorities.
Thornton was later found guilty and ultimately fired at the end of the 2021-2022 school year after it was discovered he did not share he was a registered sex offender.
According to Surovell, his proposed bill would require the Department of Education to maintain a publicly available list of email addresses, home addresses and fax numbers for the reports provided to Virginia’s superintendent of public instruction and division superintendents.
Other provisions of the bill would also mandate that circuit court and general district court clerks provide information on any convictions and for law enforcement to verify a person’s employer with the Virginia Employment Commission after arrests.
Under the bill, schools would be notified of employee arrests on several charges, including firearm offenses, homicide, felony assault and battery, criminal sexual assault, arson, burglary, robbery and more.
If the school employee is ultimately convicted of “any felony involving the sexual molestation, physical or sexual abuse, or rape of a child” or certain drug-related felonies, Virginia’s superintendent of public instruction and local school superintendents would be notified.
If passed into law, the measure would be “moot,” Surovell said, when Virginia State Police begins using the FBI’s Next Generation Identification (NGI) Rap Back Service in 2025. The service allows agencies to “receive notifications based on changes in criminal history record information (CHRI) on individuals who hold positions of trust (e.g. school teachers, daycare workers, police officers, etc.) or who are under criminal justice monitoring.”
The public education subcommittee, made up of three Democrats and two Republicans, recommended moving the legislation forward to the Senate’s Education and Health Committee with bipartisan support.
With the panel’s recommendation — and Senate Democrats in the majority — the measure is likely to advance out of the chamber.