Welcome to LoudounTimes.com
Loudoun Times-Mirror

Dr. Brewer, two Dominions and ‘passing the trash’

Embattled Dominion High School Principal John Brewer. Times-Mirror/Rick Wasser
When John Brewer opened Dominion High School in 2003, Loudoun County’s newest principal set a vision for an unconventional educational experience where everyone had a stake and everyone could succeed.

Brewer, a former football coach, sought to unite a challenging constituency – a consolidated district that included both the wealthiest and lowest income sections of Sterling. With the charm and diligence of a populist politician, Brewer campaigned to create a school culture called “Truly Titan,” an educational community where differences could be addressed safely and candidly among people of common interest.

The determined principal, then only 34, quickly won over the community with infectious enthusiasm and meticulous organization, convincing even the most skeptical that every student is a citizen of Dominion, every teacher is a mentor, and every parent is a contributor.

So committed to his vision was Brewer that he pledged to visit the home of every student at Dominion High School, a pledge he soon made good on. His routine of visiting homes and knowing each student by name is celebrated at Dominion. It stands as the principal’s personal signature of his commitment.

“We are not in Kansas anymore,” Brewer announced at the outset of his educational journey, according to news reports at the time. "Wherever you come from … to us, all those places are Kansas. Dominion is not Kansas. It's not like other places."

Fourteen years later, “The Wizard of Oz” reference still resonates. Dominion is not like most public high schools. Parents and students compare it to a private school with top academics, athletics and personal connections among all stakeholders in the community -- teachers, administrators, students and parents -- who embrace “Truly Titan” and “Titan Unity.”

But now another story unfolds. It emerges from the band room at Dominion, where a former band director is accused of improper behavior with students. That story leads to the principal’s office, where Brewer wrote a glowing letter of recommendation for Brian Damron, the former director who engaged in inappropriate behavior and communications with students, according to officials in a Florida school district.

Damron resigned from his position in Florida in November, soon after the local school system's investigation surfaced. He has not been charged with a crime and maintains his innocence.

Brewer, meanwhile, took administrative leave on Dec. 3, shortly after The Florida Times-Union first reported the allegations -- both in Florida and at Dominion -- against the former band teacher.

In Loudoun County, the Dominion community has rallied around Brewer, seeking his reinstatement. In boisterous displays of “Titan Unity,” hundreds of supporters have provided testimonials at recent School Board meetings or taken to social media in defense of their principal. One thousand “Bring Back Brewer” yard signs have been planted in neighborhoods and along roads from Sterling to Leesburg. A GoFundMe campaign has raised $34,000 to offset Brewer’s legal expenses should he contest the school district’s recommendation to fire him.

School Board member Debbie Rose, who represents the Dominion district, has indicated that Superintendent Eric Williams has recommended Brewer's termination.

Just this Tuesday, approximately 40 supporters took the “Bring Back Brewer” campaign to the School Board meeting, delivering short testimonials about the principal whose actions are being considered. The Brewer supporters – hundreds of which have addressed the School Board – say they won't yield until his reinstatement.

But in other corners of the Dominion district -- as well as in Duval County, Florida -- parents who say their children were abused by Damron are critical of the principal’s actions.

“What if it was your child?” the mother of one Dominion band student said in an interview with the Times-Mirror. Expressing fear and embarrassment, the mother reflected on being too uncomfortable to report incidents of improper conduct that her son experienced in the Dominion band room. The mother emotionally expressed regret for not reporting the incident and possibly changing outcomes for other children.

Several parents and teachers suggest school officials were aware of inappropriate language and behavior by Damron when he was at Dominion. Commenting on a story about the Florida allegations involving Damron, a teacher wrote, “this happened at Dominion too.” She said that students complained to the administration on multiple occasions about Damron’s lewd behavior, but there was never enough proof to have their opinions taken seriously.

A pro-Brewer sign that was altered to represent the opposite sentiment. Courtesy Photo


Brewer’s recommendation of Damron following the band director’s resignation at Dominion infuriates a Florida mother who told investigators that Damron engaged in inappropriate behavior with her son at the Florida school.

“Any administrator who knowingly passes along a teacher who is suspected or engaged in sexual misconduct with students deserves the same punishment as the sexual offender,” says Patty Wilson of Duval County. “Dr. Brewer should have been aware. Damron wouldn’t have ended up here and my son wouldn’t be harmed.”

The practice of recommending teachers to another school district amid reports or suspicions of inappropriate contact or communications is called “passing the trash” in education circles. Currently it is the topic of national debate as well as legislation in several states aimed at prohibiting it.

Two Dominions

A two-month investigation by the Times-Mirror has honed in on the two Dominion communities.

One coalesces around support for Brewer’s no-excuse style of tough love and unity.

The other exists in the whispers and shadows of the school, where the needs of the most vulnerable students have been belittled or dismissed, where the policy of “Titan Unity” and inclusion may harm those struggling or beaten down, and where allegations of inappropriate behavior by the band director have been overshadowed by support for the principal.

Parents who question Brewer’s leadership say they can’t express their concerns publicly because they fear that their children who attend Dominion will be targeted. One teacher said she feared for her job if she spoke out at School Board meetings, and she also worried about possible retribution against her two children who attend Dominion.

“I’m afraid to speak up at these meetings or sign a letter like this,” wrote another parent in a confidential letter to the Times-Mirror. “The Brewer fan club has become cult-like, and while I know from conversations with others that I am not the only one who feels this way, everyone is scared to speak publicly about it.”

Although their identities are known, the Times-Mirror agreed to withhold the names of parents and teachers because of their concern about the welfare of their children and students. While their identities are protected, the parents' stories are supported by notes, records and detailed personal accounts.

In December, the Times-Mirror disclosed an investigation by Duval County School Police in which Damron revealed incidents at Dominion. Loudoun County Public Schools also reported an allegation against Damron to the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office in 2014, but the investigation didn't go forward because the alleged incident happened in another county.

Last December LCPS officials released a statement about its previous knowledge of allegations against Damron.

When LCPS became aware of new allegations against Damron in Florida, the school division says it “promptly” reported the matter to the sheriff's office. On Dec. 6, 2016, the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office told the Times-Mirror the department had opened an investigation into Damron's time at Dominion.

Brewer took leave of his job just as the allegations were made, but supporters contended then that the two events may not be related.

LCPS administration won’t comment in detail on Brewer’s leave, citing privacy in personnel matters. The school district is following an administrative process pertaining to Brewer’s absence, but it is not commenting on the process.

According to those who sponsor the GoFundMe account for Brewer, the process will include a full-day hearing before an officer hired by the county, and an additional hearing before a closed session of the full LCPS School Board if the recommendation to terminate is approved by the hearing officer.

Supporters say Brewer intends to vigorously defend his position and has retained counsel to represent him.

Dr. Brewer knew every student's name, something his supporters say was a symbol of his devotion to the school. Times-Mirror/Rick Wasser


Passing the trash

Nationally, the advocacy group Stop Educator Sexual Abuse Misconduct & Exploitation (SESAME) is promoting legislation passed in Pennsylvania in 2014 that would prohibit educators nationwide from recommending teachers accused of sexual misconduct. SESAME proposes banning confidentiality or separation agreements in instances of sexual misconduct or violence. It also requires information-sharing between employers, as well as mandatory annual training of administrators, principals and teachers to recognize and report sexual misconduct.

One target is the recommendation practice known as “passing the trash,” where a teacher accused of sexual abuse or misconduct resigns, retires or is terminated and then is allowed to quietly move to another school or school district without the new employers being alerted to the allegations of misconduct.

“Passing the trash” was initially exposed by disclosures in 2000 that the Catholic church allowed sexual abuse by priests for years by reassigning them to a different parish.

Earlier this year, Virginia legislators proposed a series of new legislative efforts to ensure teachers are promptly stripped of their licenses for sexually assaulting students. The legislation came after news reports disclosed that Fairfax County Public Schools waited years before revoking the teaching licenses of four educators who engaged in sexual misconduct.

Virginia state Sen. Janet Howell (D) proposed a budget increase for the Virginia Department of Education Division of Teacher Education and Licensure, which helps investigate teachers accused of sexual misconduct. The agency would benefit from additional money and staffing to help ensure local schools are not allowing teachers to slip through the cracks, according to Howell.

Del. David Bulova (D), meanwhile, championed a separate measure that would require school districts to notify the Virginia Department of Education 10 days after initiating an investigation of a teacher suspected of misconduct. Current law only requires school districts notify the state after a teacher is convicted of a crime.

“We shouldn't leave it to the school system to decide when has it gotten bad enough to report it,” Bulova told NBC in Washington.

Bring back Brewer

Meanwhile, the Dominion community rallies to bring back Brewer. Hundreds of parents, students and teachers continue to call on the School Board to bring back their leader. Many have provided character references at the meetings.

Even Brewer’s place of faith, the Reston Bible Church, sermonizes for his support.

“I want to assure you that the details surrounding this matter, John’s role in it, and his character have all been seriously considered by both pastoral staff and the Elder Council,” writes Executor Pastor Bruce Campbell on the church’s website. “Based on our knowledge of the situation and of Dr. Brewer himself, the leadership at RBC believes the recommendation for termination is extreme, unwarranted, and unjust … consequently, although you may lack details, we are asking you to trust our collective judgment, pray for John, his family and the School Board.”

“Pray for him?” Patty Wilson, the Florida mother, asks. “They should say a prayer for the children harmed by Damron.”

Brewer’s detractors draw on the Penn State University sexual abuse scandal in 2011 as a darker metaphor for the Dominion controversy. There, revered football coach Joe Paterno was fired for concealing facts about the sexual abuse of young boys by an assistant coach, but Penn State supporters by the tens of thousands rose to defend their coach even as the troubling charges were confirmed.

“Who speaks for the victims of alleged sexual abuse at Dominion?” asks one parent, who spoke anonymously for fear of recrimination. “When I attended the School Board meetings to support amending discrimination policies, the halls were lined with Brewer supporters. I asked at least three of them whether they knew if [Brewer] knew about the sexual abuse allegations. None of them knew. It didn’t even matter to them.”

Public sentiment for Brewer’s reinstatement remains overwhelming as the school district conducts its process for considering whether to make Brewer’s leave permanent.

All high school principals have their supporters and detractors, but in the Dominion district, most continue to admire Brewer’s leadership at the high school. They celebrate “Truly Titan” and stand unequivocally behind their beloved principal.

Some supporters have been critical of recent press coverage, contending that it has not fully reflected the degree of devotion to which Brewer is held in the community, nor has it captured the pain that students, teachers and parents at Dominion are confronting.

“There have not been any sit down, face-to-face personal interviews that show the hearts of thousands of people, who on their own out of love, come to beg for their principal’s return. Why don't you be the first to write an article representing what they are feeling and why do parents and teens feel like they have been abused,” supporter Barbara Ager wrote in an email to Times-Mirror reporter Chantalle Edmunds. Ager's note was submitted as a letter to the editor and copied to the school board and Superintendent Eric Williams.

Detractors agree that “Titan Unity” has been disrupted, but argue that the focus should be on the real victims – past students at Dominion who were allegedly subjected to vile behavior by the band director and a principal unwilling to intervene. Several parents said their children were abused with sexually explicit name-calling from Damron. They described acts where the band director bullied students, engaged in improper touching and then threatened to make their lives miserable if they said anything.

The parents said they emailed or phoned Brewer, but the principal either didn’t return calls or emails about their complaints, or told students to deal directly with Damron about their problems.

One mother of a student at Dominion regrets that she did not press her complaints more aggressively.

“Why didn’t I push? Why didn’t I make Brewer listen?” she asks. “At some level I was made to believe that it was all OK. But it wasn’t OK.”

***

-Reporters Hannah Dellinger and Chantalle Edmunds and Managing Editor Trevor Baratko contributed to this story.


Related coverage:

-Times-Mirror: LCPS officials recommended Dominion teacher for new job after ‘alleged incident'
-Times-Mirror: Support for Brewer
-Florida Times-Union: Stanton Band director resigns after investigation into alleged inappropriate, sexual comments
-Boston Globe: Lawmakers want to make it easier to punish educators who sexually abuse students


Comments


@Buff - I’m not sure what your point is. If students complain, and the principal investigates but cannot find corroborating testimony/evidence, the teacher should be fired anyway? Brewer does not deserve to be terminated for doing what the county expected him to do.


To SGP, Lawman, Chocolate, Sterling Parent, JPL and others who ask, “what if it were you kid?”  Take a look at the other article here that says the sherrif has close the investigation into Damron with no action - so, the answer to “what if it were your kid?” seems to be that it was no one’s kid at all.  Nothing happened.  Time to move on.  Damron did nothing beyond saying creepy things.  Nothing happened.


There are maybe 10 - 20% of the DHS community who would be glad to see Brewer gone, and the reason have nothing to do with Damron, but with the fact that Brewer runs a tight ship.


Have to say that SGP has this part of it right—if the best you can argue is “there’s no proof any law was broken” then you’ve already lost.  That isn’t setting bar to the highest standard, it’s devolving to the lowest common denominator.  For a guy like Dr. Brewer who has made a career tossing around terms like leadership, this was nothing more than basic bureaucratic management.  Leadership takes courage—in this case “no, it would be wrong to endorse Damron so I won’t do it—there are kids at stake.”  What instead happened was management—in this case, “man, I’d like to get rid of this guy but how can I write him a letter of recommendation with a straight face…I know, I’ll just use really precise language and see if I can get away with it.”

Here is what we know, and it is indisputable:  Brewer wrote the letter.  Period.  It doesn’t matter what else happened, it doesn’t matter how many others wrote letters or made phone calls, it doesn’t matter whether any laws were broken.  Brewer wrote the letter—and he had good reason not to. 

That was not the action of a leader—it was the action of a coward.


SterlingParent.  What are you saying happened?  Your post makes no claim.  You have a chance to accuse Brewer anonymously so why not say what is in your mind.  Do you have direct knowledge of illegal or even immoral acts?  Even inappropriate contact?  Other have claimed that the only incidents at Dominion were Damron saying inappropriate things.  Enough with the vague accusations.  Make a actual claim of abuse or not


Thanks to the writers for including those who are relieved Brewer is gone. They have very good reasons for not speaking out publicly that include their children’s privacy and fear of repercussions for their children at Dominion and their siblings who will soon go to Dominion.

My heart goes out to the people in the article who said they tried to escalate this issue and other issues, and wondered if there was more they could have done. I went to great lengths to report a DIFFERENT but also horrific incident that, to me, indicated Brewer is no longer able to apply the kind of judgement needed to protect students’ safety. Although once a fan of the principal, I could not look the other way and I reported it not only to the school system, but to the entire school board, and then to senior county administrators.

It is months later now and witnesses have not been interviewed. I pushed as hard as I could at the county level for an investigation, and one has not been conducted.

Based on what I learned in this article, current law only requires school districts notify the state after a teacher is *convicted of a crime. So I agree with Rep. Bulovo that we shouldn’t leave it to the school system to decide when it has gotten bad enough to report it.

So in my case and that of others, should we report the UNBELIEVABLE incidents we witnessed at Dominion to the police? What IS the right way to bring these incidents forward for investigation?

There ARE two Dominions, and if your child was not a victim of various abuses committed there, thank God. However, please stop trying to silence those who are bringing forth serious issues and consider that just as you don’t know the full story in the Damron situation, you don’t know the other incidents that have harmed children.


I did not see any mention of the LCPS requirement that all employees immediatley report any information regarding sexual misconduct on school property or at activities to the LCSO or appropriate local law enforcement.

I did not see the LCPS requirement that all issues of misconduct of any kind will be reported to the appropriate independent office within the LCPS for furhter inquiry/investgation and not the immediate supervisor.

I am betting that the above requirements do not exist.  For if they did, we most likley would not be looking at this situation in the way we are today.

I don’t know anything about the HS or Mr. Brewer and never heard of Mr. Brewer until the case broke in Decemebr.  My guess is that he has not broken any regualtions, to include the letter of recommendation involving Damron, or he would have been fired rapidly.

The surfacing of the Florida issues and linkages to Loudoun are embarrasing and probably the core of the Brewer predicament.


Callme demonstrates the utter depravity of so many LCPS teachers. He/she implies that unless an act can be criminally proven beyond a reasonable doubt, then it’s ok even if it were immoral and rises to the level of a termination offense.

Put aside the argument over Brewer and Damron.  Think about the organization that is LCPS.  We have one of the teachers who is proudly proclaiming that as long as a teacher doesn’t cross the criminal line, everything is ok.  That culture is truly horrifying.  And it’s why so many of them need to be cleaned out.


Damron bragged to students in Florida about his relationships with former students from Dominion.  He was grooming children and preparing them to be his sex toys while they were under his watch.  Just because what Damron did doesn’t fit the conventional narrative that a pedophile is only somebody who diddles 3 year old doesn’t mean that he isn’t in the same camp as them.  It horrifies me that some of you have children and think that this is in any way okay.  Ashburn parents - EDUCATE YOURSELVES.


But where are the actual allegations of sexual abuse, molestation or anything criminal?  So far we only have suggestions that Damron said inappropriate things to students.  Has anyone come forward to claim that something illegal occurred?  Either here of in Florida?  Why has no charges been filed against Damron?  This LTM story does not provide any evidence or even suggestions of actual abuse beyond Damron being creepy.  Where are the parents claiming anything more?


spot on Lawman!


Don’t care what he did good, at the moment of truth when he could have stood up against a sexual predator, he choice not to do so for what ever reasons which he has failed to explain to the public.  Children were harmed, that standard is higher than any other claim made by anyone.  He let a predator go and helped him be in a position to hurt more children.  Is there anything worse than that besides being the actual predator, anything?


Shame on any parent who supports this guy


This article is more like it.  Looks like effort was made to investigate the details of this mess, on both sides.


If he’s such a great principal I’m sure he’ll find employment—never heard of pass the trash before, that must be more common in public employment than the business community…


The Loudoun Times-Mirror and Mr. Peskin should be commended for attempting to be objective. In these times of Fake News it is good to see our local paper trying to presents the facts.


To say the least…this has been a difficult time for DHS and the community. People claiming to know the “facts” either in support or opposition have already reached a conclusion. Blaming LCPS or the Superintendent is a disservice to everyone. Hopefully, the facts will dictate the outcome.


ChocolateDinosaur - We can make our decision only on the facts we know.  We cannot condemn a man of facts we do not know.  If know of certain facts being withheld by all means please put them out there so people are properly informed.


This story makes me sick to my stomach.  The stories that are being held back about Damron will keep you awake at night once details stop being held back.  Hopefully the parents with their heads in the sand will recant their support and realize what kind of cover up this is and support the prosecution of the criminals involved covering up for a pedophile who spent years grooming and taking advantage of his underage victims.  Horrendous.


I can appreciate that Brewer was well loved.  I can appreciate he is a good man that has done good things.  I do however appreciate that Loudoun Co school system has ZERO tolerance for someone knowingly writing a letter of recommendation for an employee who had any sexual misconduct on his record, whether it proven or not.  He knowingly passed this man to another State’s school system with knowledge that could have prevented further incidents.  There is no room for overlooking any report of an employee’s sexual misconduct and Loudoun is right to step in and stand firm.


I can appreciate that Brewer was well loved.  I can appreciate he is a good man that has done good things.  I do however appreciate that Loudoun Co school system has ZERO tolerance for someone knowingly writing a letter of recommendation for an employee who had any sexual misconduct on his record, whether it proven or not.  He knowingly passed this man to another State’s school system with knowledge that could have prevented further incidents.  There is no room for overlooking any report of an employee’s sexual misconduct and Loudoun is right to step in and stand firm.


There are several factors to consider in this story.  The first is that it appears that Damron’s actions at DHS were reported and looked into, however there was never enough proof to take action.  His actions were/are also investigated by LCSO and it appears that LCSO is not taking action.  So it boils down to the recommendation letter and why did Brewer write it. Was he instructed to by those above him?  Did he feel it was the only way to get Damron out of the school?  Or was he simply putting Damron’s need for a job over the kids? Once I hear his answer as to why he wrote the recommendation, I will be able to pick which side I sit on.


“What if it were your child?” It was. It was all of the band students while Damron was there. However, none of the allegations of impropriety warranted any charges against the teacher. Not in Virgina. Not in Florida.
How did Dr. Brewer handle the allegations? As far as we know, he talked to student leaders in the band program, and received conflicting reports of Damron’s behavior. He had multiple meetings with the teacher to address the behavior. He acted according to the LCPS policies and procedures. He did not do nothing.
After an incident (not involving a student, and not within Loudoun county) came to light, he was able to press Damron to resign.
Yes, he wrote a letter of recommendation. Did Damron raise the level of musicianship while he was at DHS? Yes. No question about it.
Did Pierson write a letter of recommendation, in which he stated that he recommended Damron “without reservation”? Yes. Is he being censured? No. In fact, he just became president of the Virginia Association of Music Education Administrators.
Look, Brewer is not perfect, but he has created a school that the community is proud of. It isn’t cult-like to recognize that this is wrong! The kids at the school have been without their principal for one third of the school year. It’s ridiculous! The seniors (who were sophomores when everything went down with Damron) are left particularly vulnerable and need this to be resolved. Dominion is not the same without Dr. Brewer celebrating their achievements.
(Lastly, you might have your writers check their facts. The person who commented on the Florida allegations involving Damron (writing “this happened at Dominion too”), is to the best of my knowledge not a teacher.)


Thank you for a well-reported piece.  It’s nice to finally hear from the victims of John “Paterno” Brewer’s reckless actions.  These forgotten families have been unfortunately drowned out by the same sort of cheerleaders who think Penn State should not have pulled down the statue of a man who also claimed to be innocent of a cover-up involving the well-being of children.  All of you rallying to have this man reinstated should take a long look in the mirror.


It seems as though the majority of residents don’t want Brewer back, only a few big mouths that think he can do no wrong… even though he has a reputation of not dealing with any problems, and just acting like everything is fine.Dominion actually needs a leader, not a pleaser!


This is the craziest mess I have seen in awhile.  Bottom line, if he knew of a pervert that was assaulting students and did not come forward, then bye,bye Brewer.  To compare this with the Penn State case is crazy.  Joe Paterno REPORTED ABUSE many times, it was the college that covered it up.  Joe Paterno was a scapegoat.  This situation is not even close to that or even compares.  If Brewer knew of a sexual predator and said nothing and just transferred that employee to another school and a child was harmed then he’s part of the problem.  Maybe some of that Gofundme money could go to the victim also.


I am deeply concerned by any citizen opinion that states it is appropriate for a government official (including a principal) to take permanent negative action based on mere rumor or accusation.  It is inappropriate to associate Dr. Brewer with any alleged actions of Mr. Damron or imply that he has any responsibility based on writing a recommendation.  According to all reports, there was no finding against Mr. Damron and there isn’t any now.  Concern for child welfare requires investigation and action upon results of the investigation.  It does not require perpetual condemnation merely based on accusation.  “Innocent until proven guilty” is a phrase written into the fabric our society and our notions of justice. 
I am making no statement on any alleged actions of Mr. Damron.  I trust that if upon proper investigation there is merit to bring charges of wrongdoing, such charges will be brought.
I find it troubling that Dr. Brewer is being castigated for upholding our collective notions of justice.  From all reports, there were no charges of criminal misdeed brought against Mr. Damron.  Given the lack of such charges, a recommendation from an employer or supervisor is appropriate.
Until there is evidence presented that Dr. Brewer took some action despite knowledge of facts, and not mere rumor, I will hold steadfast to the belief that the Superintendant is in error.  In fact, his position appears entirely unjustifiable and causes me concern that he is acting with a political agenda.

Post a comment

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

Comments express only the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of this website or any associated person or entity. Any user who believes a message is objectionable can contact us at ltmeditor@loudountimes.com.

More News

As Seen IN PRINT
The Loudoun Times-Mirror

is an interactive, digital replica
of the printed newspaper.
Click here for all e-editions.
Email UPDATES