A popular Loudoun County high school principal is back on the job more than four months after he went on leave amid questions about a glowing recommendation he made for a former band teacher later accused of inappropriate behavior with students.
John Brewer, the longtime principal of Dominion High in Sterling, had faced scrutiny over his handling of personnel issues related to former teacher Brian Damron, according to a school board member. The teacher had resigned from Dominion High in 2015 and then, with an endorsement from Brewer, found a position at a school in Duval County, Fla.
But in November, the Florida Times-Union reported that Damron had resigned from that school amid accusations of misconduct. Duval school officials concluded after an investigation that Damron had inappropriate communication with a student, had commented on a student’s genitals while placing his hands near the boy’s crotch and had told another staff member that he left Dominion High because of sexual harassment allegations. Damron, who has not been charged with any crimes, said at the time that he was “innocent of the allegations” Florida officials made.
The Florida disclosure put a spotlight on Damron’s two and a half years at Dominion and how Brewer handled his departure.
Recently, the Loudoun school system pushed to have Damron’s Virginia teaching license revoked, documents show, citing an inappropriate relationship with a Loudoun County public school student. In addition, Loudoun schools Superintendent Eric Williams recommended that Brewer be dismissed, the school board disclosed in March. No reason was publicly stated.
The school board voted to dismiss him on March 20 but immediately re-offer him his job with certain conditions. Under the terms of his new contract, Brewer must attend training on how to “recognize and report instances of inappropriate relationships between students and staff,” among other things, according to the board motion.
Brewer did not respond to requests for comment; Damron did not either. Previously, Damron told The Washington Post that he was not aware of any complaints about sexual misconduct during his time at Dominion High. He said he resigned for health and personal reasons.
In response to emailed questions, Williams referred comment to his spokesman Wayde Byard, who said that the school system “considers this matter closed.”
The episode comes amid statewide concern that school officials move too slowly to get teaching licenses revoked for educators accused of sexual misconduct, in some cases allowing teachers who displayed troubling behavior to get jobs elsewhere even when further investigation could yield evidence to get them barred from teaching. It also demonstrates the challenge that school officials face when confronted with allegations about misconduct that may be difficult to prove.
Steven R. Staples, Virginia’s superintendent of public instruction, has sent two memos in recent months reminding superintendents of their obligation to investigate educator misconduct.
Many in the Dominion High community celebrated Brewer’s return on April 17 to a school he has led since its opening in 2003. But questions remain about how Brewer and other officials in the district responded to Damron’s behavior, including why Damron was permitted to resign and retain his teaching license in 2015 and what school officials knew when he left the county. Loudoun officials were at least aware that Damron had been accused of giving a student alcohol, according to law enforcement authorities — an allegation that the principal had referred to the county sheriff’s office — but no charges were filed.
It remains unclear what Brewer knew about Damron’s conduct when he wrote him a recommendation three months after he resigned. In it, the principal said Damron’s “enthusiasm pervades every rehearsal, each performance, indeed, the innumerable daily interactions with students, colleagues and community members alike in which he engages.”
Loudoun school board member Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin) said he remains in the dark about why the district allowed Damron to resign rather than terminating him, a move that could have kept him from getting hired at the Florida school. He was not on the board when Damron resigned. He said board members usually know little about the personnel changes they are asked to review and approve.
“He should have never been allowed to resign. Damron should have been terminated,” DeKenipp said. “That’s raised a lot of questions and concerns.”
Recently, Williams sought to have Damron’s Virginia teaching license revoked. In a Dec. 21 petition to the Virginia Department of Education, the superintendent alleged that Damron had “an inappropriate relationship with a male student” and that he took the student to a conference in Norfolk. There, according to the petition, the young man spent the night in the same hotel room as Damron and Damron gave him alcohol. The petition also included documentation of allegations against Damron in Florida.
Damron surrendered his license in response to the petition. On the form he submitted to formally surrender it, he wrote, “My signature on this document does not constitute an admission of guilt of any allegations or charges.”
Legions of supporters in Sterling are celebrating Brewer’s return. Known for a personal touch in leading the high school, Brewer has drawn strong loyalty from parents, teachers, students and graduates. His supporters packed school board meetings and delivered emotional pleas for his return, organized rallies backing him and raised $70,000 to cover his legal fees. The executive pastor of Reston Bible Church, Bruce Campbell, posted a statement in support of Brewer on its website.
Brewer is known for visiting the homes of incoming freshmen to get to know them and their families. He has earned several awards, including a Distinguished Educational Leadership Award from The Post.
Jackie Funk, whose three children attend Dominion High, said Brewer erred in offering Damron a recommendation to teach at another high school. But she said she also believed he was unfairly blamed for a wider institutional failure.
“I knew he wouldn’t have gone in and done something like that if he thought someone would be in danger,” Funk said. “I think that Dr. Brewer holds himself accountable and will do things in the future based on lessons learned.”
Board member Tom Marshall (Leesburg) said Williams believed that Brewer had mishandled the situation and “should have connected the dots” regarding Damron.
But in the end, Marshall joined a 6-to-3 board majority in voting to offer Brewer his job back. Marshall said the community’s outpouring of support was crucial.
“Yes, Dr. Brewer made a bad mistake in writing that letter, but does that say that his whole career should be out the window?” Marshall said.