The Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office said it is investigating a former band director at Dominion High School after school officials in Florida, where he was recently employed, determined that he had inappropriate communications with students there. He resigned in November, soon after the Florida investigation was completed.
A Florida school district’s investigation of Brian Damron, 43, led officials there to wonder about his past at Dominion, in Sterling, Va., where he worked for 2½ years as a band director, according to investigative documents and school district officials. School officials in Duval County, Fla., said that they learned that Damron had been accused of inappropriate and unethical activity in Loudoun County but that they weren’t informed of those accusations before they hired in him in July 2015, raising questions about what information was shared as he moved from one school district to another.
Dominion High Principal John Brewer, who offered a glowing assessment of Damron in a recommendation to school officials in Florida, went on administrative leave shortly after a Florida newspaper first reported the allegations against the former band teacher. Brewer, a popular principal whose absence has raised the ire of Dominion parents and alumni, did not respond to requests for comment. The Loudoun Times-Mirror first reported that Brewer went on leave beginning Dec. 3.
Loudoun school officials declined to discuss details of Brewer’s absence, noting in a statement that “it is common for employees to take administrative leave while an investigation is being conducted. Administrative leave is voluntary and is not disciplinary in nature.”
Florida officials identified Damron publicly after determining that he engaged in “inappropriate communications” with students. They also released Damron’s personnel file and investigative documents related to the allegations at Stanton College Preparatory School in Jacksonville, Fla.
Duval County school police investigated the allegations, but the department closed the investigation and declined to file criminal charges after a police officer concluded that Damron’s behavior “did not rise to a criminal level” but was clearly inappropriate for a classroom, according to investigative documents.
Damron told The Washington Post that he is “innocent of the allegations” Florida officials have made.
According to investigative documents in Florida, a student who complained about Damron’s interaction with him also told investigators that Damron showed a photo of himself with two high school band leaders and said that he had relationships with the two young men, though it was unclear whether it was when the two were students or after they graduated.
One of Damron’s colleagues told investigators that Damron said he left Dominion High because of allegations of sexual harassment, according to the documents.
Loudoun authorities said they have opened an investigation as a result of new information about Damron’s time at Dominion. The sheriff’s office also revealed that a school staff member had alleged that Damron had given alcohol to an 18-year-old student who attended a different Loudoun high school at a music educators’ conference in Norfolk in November 2014. The sheriff’s office forwarded the report to the Norfolk Police Department, which did not file charges.
Loudoun school officials declined to say whether the fact that Damron was investigated for allegedly sharing alcohol with a student was divulged to Duval County Public Schools when officials there were vetting him to hire him.
Wayde Byard, a spokesman for Loudoun schools, acknowledged that there were prior allegations regarding Damron that the school system investigated and then passed along to the sheriff’s office.
“Those allegations did not result in criminal charges or any employment action at the time,” Byard said. “New information has recently come to the attention of the school division administration regarding Damron’s alleged conduct at Dominion High School and a new investigation has been opened.”
Damron, who resigned from Stanton College Preparatory School on Nov. 1, said in an email to The Post that he is innocent in the Florida case and acknowledged the investigation during his time in Loudoun. Damron declined to elaborate on the Florida allegations.
“While in Loudoun County, I was never aware of any student or parent complaints about sexual misconduct,” Damron said in the email. “There was an investigation about a lack of professional judgment at an activity outside of the school in another part of the Commonwealth. I formally resigned from LCPS for health and personal reasons in January 2015.”
Damron arrived at Stanton with a stellar recommendation from Brewer, Dominion High’s principal, according to Duval County documents. Brewer went on paid leave shortly after the Florida Times-Union published a story about Damron’s resignation, and Loudoun County schools officials declined to say why. Loudoun school officials said in a statement that “it is common for employees to take administrative leave while an investigation is being conducted. Administrative leave is voluntary and is not disciplinary in nature.”
According to Damron’s personnel file from Duval County Public Schools, which the district released publicly, Brewer gave Damron a glowing assessment of his short tenure at Dominion. Brewer offered a “strong recommendation” for Damron after he left, writing in a letter that Damron had raised expectations and transformed Dominion High’s band program. The letter, prepared in March 2015, was addressed to “Prospective Employer.”
“His ambitious agenda for Titan instrumental music demanded a renewed sense of energy from all participants, including himself and Mr. Damron’s infectious personality empowered him to easily rise to this opportunity,” Brewer wrote in the letter. “His enthusiasm pervades every rehearsal, each performance, indeed, the innumerable daily interactions with students, colleagues and community members alike in which he engages.”
The Dominion High School community has become deeply divided over the absence of Brewer, who has led the school since it opened in 2003. Even as questions about his absence at the school remain unanswered, many parents and former students have rallied in his support, with more than 1,700 people signing a Change.org petition as of Tuesday.
Amy Curran, president of Dominion High’s parent-teacher organization, pleaded tearfully with the school board last week, asking them to quickly resolve the matter to put the swirl of rumors around Brewer’s absence to rest.
“Our community was and is still shocked by the abrupt manner by which we were informed of Dr. Brewer’s leave from our school,” Curran said. “We ask LCPS administration to quell the rumors that have arisen.”
Damron also spent a decade teaching music at James Hubert Blake High in Montgomery County, Md. A Montgomery County schools spokesman said he left that job voluntarily and never had any actions taken against his Maryland teaching license.
Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of Duval County Public Schools, said officials had screened and vetted Damron just like any other teacher candidate.
“We certainly took efforts to review candidate qualifications prior to hire,” Vittis said. “This review includes conducting a national Level 2 criminal background screening, reviewing the candidate’s references, and checking the [Florida Department of Education’s] certification and disciplinary databases.”
Some students also had gone to Brewer to complain about Damron’s style, including Emily Saldanha, who graduated from Dominion in 2015 and was a sophomore when Damron was hired. Saldanha, now a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Mary Washington, said Damron occasionally teased students in front of the class, something she found humiliating. At one band concert, she recalled, Damron flipped off students on stage.
Saldanha said that the band seemed to improve under Damron, who raised expectations for the young musicians.
“You had to be good, and you had to be competitive, and you had to be ruthless,” Saldanha said.
Damron did not respond to requests for comment about his teaching style.
Damron’s issues at Stanton College Prep began shortly after school started. Principal Nongongoma Majova-Seane disciplined him twice in October 2015, once for being “verbally abusive” to students and calling them names, and a second time for making inappropriate comments in front of students and for “flipping off” a student, according to the investigative report.
In September, a parent called Majova-Seane to complain that Damron was making sexual advances toward her son, a band student. Damron was assigned away from the classroom while officials completed their investigation.
Investigators interviewed students and colleagues as they dug into allegations that Damron had acted inappropriately with the young man. The young man told investigators that Damron had frequently hugged him and had begun having private conversations with him via Facebook Messenger. The young man said that Damron speculated about his sexuality and told him he must be bisexual because he claimed he saw the student ogling him “at least four times in band camp.” He said that later, when he was trying on new band uniform pants, Damron placed his hands near the boy’s crotch and commented on his genitals, according to investigative documents.
Vitti, the superintendent, said in the statement that the school system acted quickly after it learned of the allegations against Damron.
“When our school district became aware of allegations of inappropriate behavior with students, we immediately acted and were prepared to recommend termination after our investigation of the allegations,” Vitti wrote.