What is the first thing that comes to mind when the word “teacher”? Maybe a favorite teacher who taught you learning can be fun, or the weird, but well-intentioned physics teacher at the end of the science hall or even the teacher that last gave you a detention. The one thing that may never come to mind is a felon, so when Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) announced that they had mistakenly hired seven felons as teachers, it came as a major shock to the whole school system.
During the last week of January, Superintendent Dr. Karen Garza issued a statement regarding these convicted felons working in the school system. The whole process began with the discovery one employee that “had a prior felony conviction and had been working for FCPS since 2006.” The employee was Madison High School special education teacher Deilia Butler, who was once part of a heroin trafficking ring that conspired to smuggle over a kilogram of heroin. This caused FCPS to comprehensively reassess “all hires between 1996 and 2009; nearly 19,000 employee files were carefully examined.” Nonetheless, six more FCPS employees were found to have had felony convictions in the past. Even more shocking is that all seven employees had truthfully stated that they were convicted felons.
Although the news was surprising enough, Garza stressed the fact that “None of the seven employees were convicted of crimes against children” and that “Human error played a part in these hirings.” Furthermore, her statement included the fact that “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.” Senior Tori Schmehl said “I find it was ridiculous that FCPS could look over such crucial details.” Sophomore Sabrina Stenberg agrees, saying, “I hope they have more thorough background checks because I definitely don’t want convicted felons teaching children.”
As a result, all seven of the felons have been removed since spring of 2013. Garza also stated that private matters such as this would typically not be disclosed to the public but it became public knowledge when Butler was named in a lawsuit filed against the school system. According to The Washington Post, FCPS wanted a confirmation that they have “the authority to fire Butler, who has been on paid administrative leave since February 2013.” Butler is fighting the school system as she believes that “Virginia law did not bar the school system from hiring her.” Freshman Safia Abdullahi said “If he or she doesn’t harm anyone, it would be okay but overall FCPS should have done a better job in checking his or her background history.” The Washington Post stated that Butler’s past was put into questioning after she had asked whether her background would prevent her from advancing in her position at Madison High School. Garza included in her statement that she is “confident” that the court will allow Butler’s removal from the school system.
While it is startling for anyone involved in the FCPS to hear this news, it is comforting to know that it has been dealt with expeditiously. “Although I don’t completely agree with FCPS’s decision regarding Butler, I am glad that they have dealt with it promptly and without much hassle,” said senior Julie Lowman.