The county school system inadvertently hired seven convicted felons, in violation of state law.
The discovery of the error came in fall 2012, after a high school teacher inquired whether her past felony conviction for drug trafficking would affect a possible promotion.
Virginia school districts have been prohibited from hiring convicted felons since 1996. The teacher, Deilia Butler, was hired by FCPS in 2006.
School officials, once alerted to the mistake, undertook a comprehensive review of hiring records, according to school spokesman John Torre. The review uncovered six more employees since 1996 who disclosed felonies on their job applications.
By spring 2013, none of the employees remained in their positions, Torre said. All either have left the school system or have been placed on paid administrative leave.
“Human error played a part in these hirings and we deeply regret this mistake,” Superintendent Karen Garza said in a statement sent in an email to families on Tuesday.
These hirings all occurred before 2009, when Fairfax County schools switched to an online job application system, according to Torre. The current system automatically disqualifies applicants who disclose felony convictions. Before that, FCPS used paper applications that required manual review.
Butler and the six other employees had disclosed their felony convictions on their applications, Torre said. They also went through the background checks against police and FBI records required of all prospective FCPS employees. But still, they slipped through the cracks.
All seven remained under the radar until Butler, a special education teacher at James Madison High School, asked whether her criminal past could hurt her chances to move up to an administrative position.
In 1992, Butler had been convicted of conspiracy to import narcotics - one kilogram of heroin - into the United States. She served 42 months in prison.
Her inquiry prompted school officials to scour the files of nearly 19,000 employees hired between 1996 and 2009, unearthing the six additional employees with felony convictions. School officials declined to give the other employees’ names, positions or the nature of their crimes, though they did say that none of them committed crimes against children.
Three of the employees left their jobs, while four, including Butler, were placed on paid administrative leave.
The school system currently has a pending case in Fairfax County Circuit Court seeking affirmation of its right to fire Butler for the felony conviction, and may fire the other employees as well depending on the outcome of the court case.