Friday, August 07, 2015

Garfield Choir Field Trip Update

From SPS Communications:


Today, the Seattle Public Schools superintendent found that probable cause existed to terminate the employment of a Garfield High School choir teacher following an investigation into a school sponsored field trip to New Orleans in March 2015. The superintendent found that numerous district policies, protocols and field trip guidelines were violated. Such violations included the consumption of alcohol by staff, allowing chaperones to consume alcohol, allowing boys and girls inside each other’s hotel rooms, ignoring curfew, and no random room checks conducted after curfew.

During this field trip a male student is alleged to have groped two female students at night in a New Orleans hotel room and on a bus, students observed their teacher and chaperones drinking alcohol, a teacher and chaperones drank alcohol at night on other occasions, a chaperone was visibly incapacitated and had to be helped back to their hotel room one night, and a chaperone was alleged to have engaged in inappropriate contact with a student while under the influence of alcohol.

The District hired an investigator, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, to conduct the investigation. The investigation found that numerous policies, procedures, and protocols were violated by staff and chaperones.

A separate investigation surrounding whether relevant background information about prior a student attending the field trip was shared, as well as staff procedures surrounding that information is still underway.

Safety is a top priority. A basic expectation for students and parents is that district staff will ensure the safety of students while under their care, in and out of the classroom.

48 comments:

TechyMom said...

Well, that sucks. I hope they find a good replacement, so the stellar program she built is there when my singer gets to Garfield.

Charlie Mas said...

So is this the deal now? Violate policies and procedures and you're fired?

If so, most of the senior staff will be gone by February.

Anonymous said...

Charlie,

Apparently "Violate policies and procedures and you're fired?" does NOT apply to administrators and senior staff.

The message for teachers is "Violate policies and procedures and you're fired?"

Perhaps the above two consequences need to be written in an "accountability and consequences" section of the Policies and Procedures.

-- Dan Dempsey

Anonymous said...

WOW!!! I am waiting for huge improvements because

Today, the Seattle Public Schools superintendent found that probable cause existed to ..........

Now if only the "probable cause existed" standard will be used to:

Improve the SPS by intelligently applying relevant data in all decision-making.

Man-o-man I can hardly wait for this to catch on in city government as well.

-- Dan Dempsey

Anonymous said...

Wonder what the legal calculus was behind this decision. Following the NatureBridge disaster two years ago, it appeared that Ron English and team believe that holding any staff accountable for lax chaperoning and failure to comply with district field trip policies would be tantamount to admitting a failure to exercise reasonable care in protecting a student from sexual assault by a peer, increasing the litigation risk. In her appeal, Ms. Burton could presumably point to the disparity of disciplinary action meted out to her versus the staff involved in the NatureBridge incident.

Rita

Melissa Westbrook said...

Right, Rita. We don't even know for sure if those NatureBridge teachers even got a letter in their files on that issue. One of them had to be the lead teacher on the trip just as Ms. Burton was.

As for Dan and Charlie, yes, when will senior leadership ever be held responsible for their lack of transparency and oversight?

That's why we need a new Board AND a new Superintendent. Nyland is a figurehead who is marching to the beat of someone else's drum.

Anonymous said...

Rita has hit nail soundly on the head.

"a failure to exercise reasonable care in protecting a student from sexual assault by a peer,"

What happened to those admin at NatureBridge that failed in multiple ways to follow policies and procedures with disastrous results? Oh right nothing. (Yet?)

But Carol Burton is actually being held responsible for violations unlike so many others in the past.

Looking at this another way... is it more difficult to replace Ms. Burton by finding another top notch choir teacher to lead an excellent program .... than to find replacement administrators? Perhaps Dr. Nyland needs to go back and re-examine the administrators from the NatureBridge incident and "Find probable cause exists for termination".

If the legal liability questions have been resolved from NatureBridge, this would be a good time to enforce policy.

-- Dan Dempsey

Anonymous said...

Am I the only person that thinks, of all the field trips in all the world, choosing New Orleans was a poor decision from the get go?

It's a hard, hard place to "act adult" even as an adult. And to go into knowing you have to supervise a bunch of HS students?

Gee, sitting in Seattle and picking field trips - did it not occur that maybe a different competition (and there must be many) in a different place might be a better choice?

I'm sorry the teacher lost her job, but I think the trip was as doomed as Gilligan's three hour tour from the beginning, first by choosing the location. Then by having any drink. Not one. Even though the drinks don't appear to be the proximate cause of any of the things that happened, they put the teacher and chaperones in a terrible position to argue they weren't at fault - b/c they had broken a bight line rule, even if breaking that rule isn't the cause of what happened.

But still - maybe they should have looked for a choir competition somewhere like Indianapolis or Columbus or Knoxville or Minneapolis - just right there, make it easier on everyone - harder for the kids to get alcohol, easier for the chaperones to decide to go without, a place with a less laissez-faire/ bon temps roulez vibe.

So, sorry this shook out, but she did make more than one bad choice - and choosing to take a bunch of high schoolers to New Orleans in the first place, knowing how the Nature Bridge thing happened, well... I wouldn't have done it, not in a million years.

Signed: Anon

Melissa Westbrook said...

Anon, I'm having a hard time deciding whether to delete your comment because of our rules about no anonymous comments ("Anon" as a name? Not so much).

I have to smile - now it's New Orleans fault? The competitions are where they are and sometimes there are scheduling issues.

But to circle back, why isn't Ted Howard responsible for anything? The investigation says he is not responsible, in any way, for the issues on this trip. I would disagree.

Back after the NatureBridge incident, he put a stop to all field trips for 2014-2015 (I looked it up). Then he changed it to Jan. 2015 (probably because of protests). According to one parent on a field trip in the spring (not this one), the parents on that trip were basically read a low-key riot act before they left over the duties of the chaperones.

Did that happen for teachers leading these trips? We don't know. Or did Howard, like Ms. Burton (again from the report) to the kids on her trip, say something like "Don't do anything dumb."

Because it does seem odd that it's Garfield that has these high-profile issues. (Yes, I know other high schools have had issues but not like these.)

It does seem odd that it appears no teacher on NatureBridge was punished in any way.
(I have asked but I will ask again.)

It does seem odd that if Principal Howard made it crystal clear to teachers after NatureBridge that they cannot violate the rules and policies on field trips that Ms. Burton did. In several ways based on her own judgment and values.

Her judgment was poor and her own personal values - if not expressed to Howard and addressed by him - have no place in her decision-making.

But yes, in the big picture, what is learned here?

That teens will do dumb things on field trips. (Was that really a lesson anyone didn't already know especially experienced high school teachers?)

That when bad things happen, it helps to be able to say, "I follow the rules to the best of my ability."

That if you are an adult on a field trip, it's your job to act like an adults with students and maybe with other adults (like asking why kids are running around in each other's rooms and why the adults are drinking in front of kids). I have a feeling at least a couple of adults on this trip may have wondered but left it to Burton's judgment.

That the district will be punitive in who they punish. And we will never know why they would punish a teacher when the staff person who reviewed the boy's transcript seems every bit as culpable. (And we don't know if that person was punished.

In the end, I think that what the district has created is an atmosphere of confusion and fear and that most teachers (and parents) will just say no to going on field trips.

But the die seems cast and I wonder about the future of field trips for SPS students (at least overnight).

Anonymous said...


"But to circle back, why isn't Ted Howard responsible for anything? The investigation says he is not responsible, in any way, for the issues on this trip. I would disagree."

Exactly. Why doesn't Principal Ted Howard bear any responsibility for what happened? On his watch, there have been too many field trips that have placed the school and the District in the public eye.
If Carol Burton had always been too lenient on school - sponsored field trips, why would Garfield admin allow this trip when the stakes were so high?

Does this mean that as of now, jazz band and orchestra trips will no longer be school - sponsored trips, but "school - related" trips, absolving the administration and the District of all responsibility?

---Modern Sound

Patrick said...

Modern Sound, I hope not! That would be another sign that the District doesn't give a damn about kids' safety, they only care about their liability.

Kids will find ways to misbehave, but it should be possible to avoid crimes with nonconsenting victims like the girls in New Orleans and the Naturebridge incident.


Anonymous said...

Teens did not get alcohol or do dumb things on the New Orleans trip. One teen acted in an inappropriate way. That teen had done an inappropriate action while attending a private school before coming to Garfield. The choir members on the trip participated in a great choir field trip and had an enriching educational and musical experience. It was only after the return that they found out about the incident.
GHS choir mom

Patrick said...

GHS Choir Mom, the girls who were the victims of the incessant groping could have stopped it anytime by reporting it. So why didn't they report it? Because they knew an investigation would expose multiple other rules violations. If those rules violations hadn't been happening, the victims would have felt free to report it. That is why it's best to treat the rules as a bright line. The choir director still doesn't seem to get this, from her statements about a glass of wine with dinner a couple of times cost her her job.

Also, following the rules about mixing in rooms assigned to the other sex would have given the boy one less opportunity.

Melissa Westbrook said...

And Choir Mom, no one said the teens, except for the male student and the one girl who flashed a building, did anything wrong. I wish the girls who had been bothered by this male student while at GHS had spoken up but they are young and it probably was upsetting/confusing when he was grabbing at them.

No one has said the kids are to blame for anything.

Anonymous said...

MW, Yes, Anon said that going somewhere other than New Orleans would make it harder for kids to get alcohol, but that is not the topic at all, and that is not what happened. And you mentioned that kids will do dumb things on field trips. That may be true, but it also is not the topic at all. The incident that happened was not a dumb thing, instead it was a manifestation of some sort of acting out of a student who had some sort of a problem.
GHS choir mom

Nell Harper said...

"Signed: Anon" said But still - maybe they should have looked for a choir competition somewhere like Indianapolis or Columbus or Knoxville or Minneapolis

Yes, Signed: Anon, please do tell us about the musical/cultural history that would be enriching for the students on a field trip to these towns vs. New Orleans.

In Minneapolis, perhaps they could cruise around town hoping for a Prince sighting while The Replacements blasts on the charter buses, on their way to the Mall of America (because kids love The Replacements and malls, right?).

Columbus - Aside from the thrill of visiting the capital of a midwest state that begins with a vowel, a trip to Columbus would ensure students are a mere 2 hours away from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But that museum celebrates the Devil's music, and might entice the students to gyrate their hips. And we all know what happens then.

Knoxville? Well, it's near Dollywood, It's also a mere 5hrs from Memphis & 2+hrs from Nashville - both hotbeds of Devil's music (see above).

Indianapolis? Uhhhhhhh......

Thanks for the most amusing field trip suggestions I've read in quite some time.

Gimme a Break.

Signed,
Nell Harper

Anonymous said...

Earlier this year, I threw a Bat Mitzvah party for 30 kids and 30 adults, where the adults all consumed a glass of wine or two. By the district's logic, I guess the kids were unsupervised during the party.

Demon Rum

Melissa Westbrook said...

DR, do even thing the two things are comparable? C'mon.

Patrick said...

Demon Rum, were the adults breaking a rule that would have made kids reluctant to complain if one of them was engaged in unwelcome groping? Were kids alone unsupervised for long periods of time?
If the answer to both those questions is yes, then maybe they were unsupervised.

RLF said...

It is not in dispute that some rules were broken, however Ms.Burton's attorney makes a good case that this was not causative. So isn't this a situation that might call for progressive discipline regarding Ms. Burton, but not termination at this point?
Randy Lee Francisco

dan dempsey said...

Randy Lee Francisco,

In your call for progressive discipline, we might also consider the District's discipline over the years. What has the district done with teacher field trip leaders in the past? Is this a huge deviation from established practice?

-- Dan Dempsey

RLF said...

Past and established practices should be considered. But what if practices are arbitrary, irrational, unfair, and (or) inappropriate for a given set of behaviors? This situation will be scrutinized carefully by an arbitrator. The school district may very well be in for a surprise.

Anonymous said...

Yep. No more field trips for Garfield. Can't imagine the teacher who would sign up for it. Sorry. Party's over. Take your own kids on vacations.


Staffer

Anonymous said...

No field trips is a reasonable punishment. Firing a truly inspired teacher is not. This is the second top-notch teacher I have seen fired by the district in 8 years (and there are more). But the poor teachers muddle on precisely because they don't rock the administrative boat.

I hope Burton appeals and wins a position back - or she could go to another district and build a choir to beat the pants off Garfield. Serve them right.

-IngrahamParent

Anonymous said...

I don't understand many of you. Drinking while on the job is a fireable offense, period. I don't care if she is an inspired teacher, or a nice person, or Mother Theresa - she made a huge mistake and now must live with the consequences. (Much like we tell our children, right?) The fact that any employer is taking a harsher, stricter line now does not mean they shouldn't have in the past, but I am glad to see that they are doing so now.


Moose

Maureen said...

Are teachers and chaperones really on duty 24/7 on fieldtrips? Shouldn't there be shifts when some are on call and others off duty? If the teacher is really working 24 hours, how does that fit into their contract? They aren't paid for that time are they?

TechyMom said...

A glass of wine at a catered event on a business trip is completely normal. Using alcohol for team building (as she claims to have done with volunteers) is also common. My employer reimburses for it as a business expense.
SPS has lots of rules that are ignored by schools. People here endorse schools doing that for curriculum adoption, test administration, and other reasons. I get that some people agree with this particular rule and are shocked that it's ignored. A teacher made a judgement call, where an SPS rule was considered as one factor against many others. Teachers do this every day.

Anonymous said...

I seem to recall that some in the choir reported to the investigators that things had been happening with respect to this boy for some time in class. I find it sad that there isn't a greater focus on finding out why female students are reluctant to report things and seek help. If it was happening for some time, obviously the behavior of the chaperones alone can't explain the reluctance to report. Hope this aspect doesn't get buried in the focus on the chaperones and the school district. Would love to see some sort of action plan/student education/ support about unwanted sexual contact in all high schools, but I am not too optimistic since it is a much harder problem to address.

CuriousaboutCulture

Po3 said...

I am surprised at how this incident has become about the drinking that took place. To me, it is about the decision to violate the "no boys in girls room vice versa" rule, which led to an assault. Had Ms. Burton held firm on that rule the cascading events would not have followed. The rule is in place for good reason as evidenced by what happened as a result of the rule being violated. I think the "2.5 glasses of wine" has become a distraction from the real issue.

With that said, I also do not believe Ms. Burton should be fired. I think she should be removed from GHS and reassigned to another school and never be allowed to take students off campus.

Anonymous said...

Techy Mom and others - she agreed ahead of time (as did the chaperones) that there would be no consumption of alcohol. An analogy: exceeding the speed limit will warrant a ticket or even license suspension if caught. It doesn't matter that the speed limit is capriciously enforced - you as a driver are subject to consequences if caught. She was caught - a particularly terrible lapse in judgement given that 1. she was in charge of the safety and well-being of other people's kids, and 2. the fallout from the Nature Bridge lapse in judgement by chaperones. As an aside, her drinking even 2.5 glasses of wine cuts from her the moral high ground by which kids caught with alcohol on a school trip are sent home and like MW has stated, sends the absolute wrong message to teenagers who are willing to exploit any loophole.

I don't disagree that the larger issue is the lenient interpretation of room rules (boys in girls rooms and vice versa). However my point to those who say that teachers will never want to chaperone trips again or that she is unfairly losing her job...drinking on the job in violation of the terms of her agreement are by itself reason for termination.

Moose

TechyMom said...

Moose, do you feel the same way about teachers who ignore requirements to use a particular book, give a particular test, or discipline in a particular way? If not, why do some rules need to be followed while others can be bent?

RLF said...

Speaking of larger issues- if you read all the docs you will see that the groper seems to find a way to grope, wherever he is,.....so the larger issue is why he was included in the field trip in the first place. That one appears to be on school district management,not the teacher. That fact will and should play a big part in the adjudication, which will be taking place eventually.

Po3 said...

"...why do some rules need to be followed while others can be bent?"

Because some rules, when bent, lead to sexual assaults, while others do not.

If rules had been followed and an incident occurred w/ this male student, then blame could have been placed on the school or the district for allowing the student to participate, not the teacher.


Po3 said...

"...why do some rules need to be followed while others can be bent?"

Because some rules, when bent, lead to sexual assaults while others do not.

If rules had been followed and an incident occurred w/ this male student, then blame could have been placed on the school or the district for allowing the student to participate, not the teacher.

TechyMom said...

The glass of wine had nothing to do with the sexual assault. Should all the rules be followed or just the ones bloggers agree with?

Po3 said...

Techymom - That is exactly the point I made. The assault was the result not following the no opposite sex in room rule.

If all the rules had been followed then Ms Burton would not be losing her job.

So, yes IMHO all the rules should have been followed, not just the ones bloggers agree with - that is a nonstarter.

RLF said...

The point is that the school district had the information and did not follow due diligence when allowing a known perpetrator to attend an extended field trip where he would have numerous opportunities, regardless of how well rules were followed, to offend as he has in other circumstances. The docs and testimonies from several students strongly indicate that he finds opportunities. The teacher and chaperones did not cause the perpetrator's behavior and rules have not,historically, had much effect on preventing his behaviors. The staff drinks and the rather artificial co-mingling boundaries rejection by the students are diversionary.
It is a very big problem for teachers and other staff members, when they are not informed of potentially dangerous students being placed under their supervision. It happens way too often.
Experienced.

RLF said...

N, the assaults occurred because a person with known deviant behaviors was allowed to attend this field trip. He would have found a way to perpetrate regardless; this is his history. The rules issue is just a smokescreen to shield very poor administration.

Po3 said...

Except that IF the rules had been followed AND the student assaulted a student THEN the school or the district could have been held responsible.

It was a rule, which was broken that set the stage for the assault and the teacher could not argue due diligence.

Charlie Mas said...

Let's get two things clear.

1) The drinking by Ms Burton and the chaperones had nothing to do with the alleged sexual assault.

2) The alleged sexual assault had nothing to do with Ms Burton's firing.

Ms Burton was not fired because two girls reported sexual harassment/assault on the field trip. Ms Burton got fired because she violated a number of field trip procedures and did so willfully and unrepentantly. If you want to discuss the firing, please address yourself to the true rational for it - not the reported sexual harassment/assault. That's what a student on the trip is accused of doing wrong. Ms Burton isn't getting fired for what the boy did wrong; she's getting fired for what she did wrong. Her consumption of alcohol is not even the big part of that.

RLF said...

Po3 you miss the point. If the kid is not on the field trip, the reported incidents don't get filed because they don't happen. It is the lack of due diligence on management's part that keeps the stage from being set. Why is this so hard to understand?

If Charlie Mas is correct and her behavior didn't cause anything bad to happen (this will be demonstrated), then this is a situation for progressive discipline, not termination. A hearing examiner will get it if her representation is any good. The school district will spend a lot of your money and lose the adverse action case.

Patrick said...

Charlie wrote,

1) The drinking by Ms Burton and the chaperones had nothing to do with the alleged sexual assault.

2) The alleged sexual assault had nothing to do with Ms Burton's firing.


Well, the drinking was one of the rules that the students knew Ms. Burton was breaking, and so was one of the reason the victims attempted to handle the continued assaults themselves instead of reporting them.

If the assaults hadn't happened, there would have been no investigation and no firing.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I have been pretty clear on the issues. Folks can choose to decide what would matter to them for their own child and chaperone behavior on field trips.

I have gone on record saying Burton should not be fired but she should also never plan/lead a field trip.

Again, the drinking did not cause the groping. The relaxed atmosphere created by adult behavior almost certainly enabled and empower the male student.

Why are rules important when kids are younger but not with teens? Those who haven't parented thru the teenage years, come back when you have and we'll talk again.

Lastly, I didn't make the rules so I'm not saying which rules can be broken.

Charlie Mas said...

The article in the Weekly continues to make the same mistake that everyone else is making. They presume that Ms Burton is getting fired because of the alleged sexual harassment/assault. That simply isn't the case. The reports of a sexual assault triggered an investigation, but it is the wholesale violation of field trip procedures discovered by the investigation that is costing Ms Burton her job, not the alleged groping.
The article in the Weekly is also in error by suggesting that the School Board had anything to do with this. That's just objectively wrong.

The Weekly writes:
"Late Friday, Superintendent of Public Schools Larry Nyland passed a letter of termination to Garfield High School choir teacher Carol Burton. Ostensibly, this is punishment for her failure to uphold district policies for field trips on a March excursion to New Orleans, during which, it was discovered: Burton and several of her parent chaperones had partaken of alcohol, tacitly sanctioned mixed-gender chill sessions in hotel rooms and, most damningly for the embattled School Board, oversaw an environment that left two girls complaining of unwanted sexual contact from a male classmate."

Why "ostensibly"? Why isn't the stated rationale for the action credible? Why the presumption that Dr. Nyland is being deceptive?

Why characterize the School Board as "embattled"? What's the source of that view?

Why even mention the School Board? They had absolutely no role in any of this.

I think the writer for the Weekly has some questions to answer.

RLF said...

There wouldn't have even been an investigation, leading up to a termination, if the misconduct of the student had not occurred and been reported. This is a student whose misconduct included groping on the bus on the way to the airport (see exhibits). He is not interested in rules and boundaries of the sort that are touted in this forum.
The root cause of this termination is the misconduct of the student, who should not have been included in trip in the first place. There are certainly some issues with staff and accompanying adults, but it is not a termination issue.
Track unsafe students and keep all supervising adults well apprised!

Melissa Westbrook said...

The writer is a young woman (a guest writer I'm thinking). I don't think she read the documentation nor that she knows the district very well.

RLF, agreed. I am astonished that Beryl Miller, the district official who made the call - seemingly by herself - to NOT include his past behavior into the district's database is still working. Of course, maybe she was sanctioned and that's where the Board could come in. Meaning, they may not be able to do anything in this case but they could pass policy that requires that at least they are told about sanctions.

But again, while RLF is correct that this student doesn't care about rules and boundaries, it seems that making a "relaxed" atmosphere for him to act out certainly didn't hurt and may have emboldened him.

Anonymous said...

Beryl Miller isn't culpable of anything. When students transfer either up, or in from outside, judgments as to disciplinary records need to be made. We don't want students with huge, and unwarranted discipline files to be burdened by this. These aren't criminal court decisions. They are often discriminatory findings of culturally incompetent school staff. I've seen them. Keeping every discipline issue is equally problematic. Somebody had to make the call. Ms. Miller did. Turns out the kid misbehaved. It is actually nobody's fault. No action is called for. None.

Reader

Melissa Westbrook said...

Reader, you seem quite assertive in your comments.

Again, I would have to know what Ms. Miller's job description looks like - she can make these judgements all by herself when it comes to other students' safety? There's no second check on these types of issues?

As well, "the boy misbehaved?" The boy broke the law. Big difference.