Months after a music teacher’s abrupt resignation from Stanton College Preparatory School last November, a Virginia school district for the first time reported that the same teacher had an improper relationship with a student at his prior school there.
That accusation about Brian Damron and an 18-year-old student was detailed in state documents Virginia made public last week.
Damron worked for the Loudoun County school district from 2012 until he resigned abruptly in January 2015. Duval County hired him the following July but he resigned again, while under investigation here, in November 2016.
Loudoun County school district officials say they knew of only one complaint before Damron left their district. The other complaints were discovered later. They did not reveal the complaint to Duval County officials before they hired him.
Eric Williams, the superintendent of Loudoun County schools, tried to fire the principal who wrote Damron a glowing recommendation, which Damron included in his Duval application. The school board voted Monday night to reinstate the principal.
Williams wrote to state education officials in January in a petition to have Damron’s teaching certificate revoked that Damron displayed numerous behaviors that were inappropriate.
The superintendent wrote that Damron allegedly took an 18-year-old student who was still enrolled at the school to a music conference in Norfolk, Va., where the two shared a hotel room for three nights.
“The teacher also provided the student with alcohol on at least one occasion during the trip,” he wrote. “On another occasion, the teacher was seen at a restaurant with the student. It was reported that the teacher had his hand in the student’s back pocket. In addition the student visited the teacher at the teacher’s home on multiple occasions.”
The district had said it investigated a complaint against Damron in 2015, but it wasn’t enough to revoke his license or yield a criminal charge. It is unclear if the district was referring to the alleged hotel stay. Williams did not respond to a request to comment.
Damron also could not be reached for comment. He has said he is innocent and said that news coverage about his time at Stanton has ruined his life.
According to Williams, Damron “engaged in numerous behaviors that were inappropriate and that had a direct and detrimental effect on the health, welfare, discipline and morale of students …. In addition, the teacher insulted or demeaned students and cursed at and in front of students. He also frequently hugged students, particularly male students, making them feel uncomfortable.”
Williams said a student dropped Damron’s class because he felt uncomfortable, but Damron allegedly later winked at the student, told him he missed him, and invited the student to his classroom for lunch.
“On another occasion he kissed two male students on their cheeks,” Williams wrote.
While at Stanton, Damron was twice reprimanded in October 2015 after he was accused of verbally abusing band students, calling them names, making improper comments and sexual innuendo, and sticking up his middle finger at a student, according to Duval’s investigative reports.
Damron acknowledged some allegations but disputed others during a meeting with Stanton’s principal, Nongongoma Majova-Seane, she wrote in her report. She did not elaborate on what he disputed.
Duval’s investigation report said Damron frequently hugged a male band student, made comments about his butt, and on one occasion ran his fingers along the inseam of pants that the boy was trying on, touching the youth near his crotch and commenting on the size of his penis.
On another occasion, the report said, Damron allegedly urged that boy to delete their texts and social media messages “for both our protection,” according to copies of a text and a social media message provided by the boy’s mother.
The Times-Union is not revealing the names of the student or his mother because of its policy to not identify victims of sexual wrongdoing.
Damron quit Stanton effective Nov. 1, before his case could go on the Duval County School Board agenda, so the district closed the complaint and reported to the state. Police also investigated, but that did not result in charges.
The student’s mother, when reached Friday about Loudoun County’s report, said that it comes too late to protect her son. She wonders why it took so long.
“I am furious that it takes a victim in another state to cry out and be in the spotlight before the administration at [Loudoun County schools] responds in an ethical manner to the things that happened in their own school over two years prior,” she said. “I certainly think that [Loudoun County] tried to hide what happened there.”
Wayde Byard, a Loudoun County schools spokesman, said school district officials there investigated an incident before Damron resigned in early 2015 and that was reported to police.
He didn’t say why Loudoun County officials didn’t also inform Duval or Virginia’s education department sooner.
Williams’ letter said that the superintendent learned of “additional information” in late 2016.
It did not surprise one expert that Damron was not charged with a crime in Virginia.
The age of consent for a sexual relationship there is 16, but many school districts’ policies prohibit teachers from having affairs with students regardless of age, said Billie-Jo Grant, a board member of Stop Educator Sexual Abuse Misconduct & Exploitation, a national group advocating for laws to better identify and remove sexual predators from schools.
It also is not unusual for an investigation to take two years or more before an accused teacher’s license is revoked, she said. National research estimates that a sexual predator typically gets hired at three schools and can have up to 78 victims before he or she is caught and stopped, Grant said.
Most states have laws requiring districts to report teacher misconduct even after a teacher resigns or is fired. Loudoun County should have reported Damron then, she said.
“If they had investigated [the allegations] at the time and that’s the reason why the person resigned, then it should be reported,” she said. “I don’t think somebody should be allowed to resign. I think you should fire them.”
She said federal protections under Title IX require schools to protect students from sexual abuse, harassment and discrimination. In 2001, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights sent districts a guidance letter spelling out how districts should appoint a Title IX officer to take complaints, set up formal ways to investigate teacher misconduct and ways to handle potential punishments.
Three months after Damron joined Stanton, Duval’s top-ranked high school in academics, Damron was reprimanded twice for improper behavior and communications with students, and nearly a year later, in September 2016, he was removed from class and investigated on allegations of sexual advances toward a student.
Duval County officials said at the time that they had done a proper background check on Damron before hiring him and had found no complaints against him.
Rather than warnings, Duval received three letters of recommendation, including a glowing letter from Damron’s former principal in Loudoun, John Brewer, and one from a former music supervisor for the district, Michael Pierson.
Pierson has since said he knew of no complaints against Damron when he wrote that letter. Brewer could not be reached for comment.
Some critics, including parents in Florida and Virginia, said Loudoun County “passed the trash” with Damron. That’s a pejorative education term for when a district allows a teacher accused of misconduct to quietly resign and keeps complaints about that teacher secret from future employers.
Grant said it is a common practice among districts that ultimately endangers students.
Duval Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said Friday that if a Duval teacher had been found to have dated an 18-year-old student, he or she would have been fired and reported to law enforcement.
Florida law requires districts to report educators who resign or are dismissed during a misconduct investigation, he said, and it makes it illegal for a district to enter into a “confidentiality agreement” with an accused educator.
Byard said Loudoun County does not have a confidentiality agreement with Damron.
Nevertheless, the state of Virginia did not know about any complaints against Damron when he left Loudoun County in January 2015, said Charles Pyle, spokesman for that state’s education department. Even after news coverage grew about the Stanton complaints in November 2016, the Virginia district did not formally inform the state until weeks later, he said.
Williams’ wrote that the district received additional information in late 2016, but he did not elaborate on what that information was.
By then, Virginia’s education department had started gathering documents from Duval schools about Damron, Pyle said. Virginia’s education department has no detectives, Pyle said. It relies on its school district partners to investigate educator misconduct.
This July, a new law goes into effect in Virginia with tougher requirements for school districts to report educator misconduct sooner. Districts also must send their evidence to the state, Pyle said.
“We will know what is going on,” he said. “If for one reason or another the local process breaks down, we’re in a position to make an inquiry.”
Denise Smith Amos: 904-359-4083