FCPS Letter Addresses Fairfax Schools' Accidental Hiring of Felons

Superintendent Karen Garza issued a letter to all families in the school district Tuesday. Plus, readers respond to the news.

Karen Garza, the superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools issued a letter Tuesday about the school division's accidental hiring of several convicted felons. (Patch file.)
Karen Garza, the superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools issued a letter Tuesday about the school division's accidental hiring of several convicted felons. (Patch file.)
By Jamie Rogers and Jennifer van der Kleut

Karen Garza, the superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools, issued a letter Tuesday about the school division's accidental hiring of several convicted felons, which just came to light on Monday after a report by the Washington Post.

READ: Fairfax Schools Mistakenly Hires Seven Felons, Doesn't Notice For Years

Garza's letter was published Tuesday in the district's "MyFCPS Family" e-newsletter, which goes to every employee and parent of every child enrolled in a Fairfax County public school.

The full text of the letter read:

"Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) is committed to open communications with our employees, families, and community. For this reason, it is important to share information on a situation which came to light in the fall of 2012, and the steps we have taken to correct this situation.

It was brought to our attention in the fall of 2012 that an employee had a prior felony conviction and had been working for FCPS since 2006. Action was taken immediately to remedy the situation as state law prohibits school divisions from hiring any applicant who has been convicted of a felony. 

Next, FCPS moved quickly to undertake a comprehensive review of all hires between 1996 and 2009; nearly 19,000 employee files were carefully examined. In 2009, FCPS moved to an online application process, which automatically rejects any applicant who discloses he or she has a felony conviction. Prior to the online application process, a paper application process was used.

As a result of our review, six other employees emerged as having prior felony convictions. None of the seven employees were convicted of crimes against children. All of these employees were also hired before 2009. Human error played a part in these hirings and we deeply regret this mistake.

By the spring of 2013, all seven employees were removed from their positions. Four are on administrative leave pending resolution; three have left the school system. 

Normally, personnel matters are not for public discussion. However, this situation is becoming public after a lengthy legal and administrative process involving one of these employees, which is now in the Fairfax County Circuit Court. We are confident the court will affirm our recommendation to dismiss this employee.

Every FCPS employee undergoes a rigorous background check including fingerprinting for a police and FBI record check, and a check against a national child abuse registry. 

FCPS employees, families, and community can be assured that this situation will not occur again because of the rigorous online application process and strong vigilance.

If you have concerns or questions, contact fcpsinfo@fcps.edu."

Reactions from Patch readers have been mixed since the news was made public Monday.

While some shared their outrage or utter disbelief that something like felony convictions for crimes like drug smuggling could escape school officials for so long, others said they can understand a mistake was made and appreciated the school district acting quickly to remedy it once it was discovered.

Patch reader Tom Stanley wrote on Fairfax City Patch's Facebook page, "FCPS has what, about 18,000 employees? A .0004 error rate is pretty darn good, and it is being fixed."

"Most importantly no child was harmed. They have taken the teachers out of the schools," said reader Maggie Love Dietrich. "Their system is pretty darn accurate and they're working to make it even better. We are lucky to have the school system we have."

Reader Melissa Rider Pickell said on Herndon Patch's Facebook page, "I'm a little torn, because there is always a back story, and not all felons are created equal. Most importantly, was the former smuggler a good teacher? If not, good riddance. If she was, there are other questions to ask. Was she a dumb kid who got mixed up with bad people as a teenager, and arrested when she was young? Was she a fall guy for someone? Was it guilt by association? What kind of person is she today? Was she one of the rare cases where she used the time in jail to truly rehabilitate herself and become a better and wiser person?"

"None of the felonies involve pedophiles or sex crimes, so I'm less concerned. I don't think she's teaching drug smuggling 101," Pickell continued. "Not saying I'm not concerned, just saying there is always more to the story, and systematically disqualifying someone isn't always the best thing to do."

What's your take on the situation? What do you think of Garza's letter to FCPS families? What do you think of the district's mistake, and Virginia's law that bans schools from hiring convicted felons? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.


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