Thursday, August 06, 2015

Garfield Choir Teacher Says She is Going to be Fired

Reader Lynn sent me the link from the Times with this announcement.

The teacher, Carol Burton, said:
"I had two and half drinks in five days and those drinks were the most expensive drinks in my life - they've cost my career, apparently."

"Those drinks seem to be worth more than all of the students who want me back, all of the parents who me back, all of my staff who want me back, my principal who wants me back."
The Times reports that Ms. Burton says she plans to appeal the decision.
I have no idea what the case was that SPS Legal presented to the Superintendent for this decision but I find it hard to believe - based on the district's own investigation - that it was solely based on drinks.  There was a lot more to it.

Ms. Burton had offered to take a 10-day suspension without pay and not attend field trips for three years.  (It's not clear how she arrived at those numbers.)  Personally, I don't know if this rises to the level of firing a teacher but the investigation indicated that she showed very bad judgment in what she did and what she allowed during the trip as the teacher of record and leader of the choir.

This decision may add interest to the next School Board meeting on August 19th.

39 comments:

Anonymous said...

Personally, I don't know if this rises to the level of firing a teacher but the investigation indicated that she showed very bad judgment in what she did and what she allowed during the trip as the teacher of record and leader of the choir.

If her actions had occurred at a time when there wasn't such a clear focus on field trip safety, I would agree that less harsh disciplinary action would be reasonable for a first offense. However, given the recent incidents and the spotlight on field trip chaperoning procedures, to so blatantly disregard the rules shows such poor judgment that termination does not seem unreasonable. It's sad to lose someone many considered a great teacher, but she had to know she was taking big chances when she made the decisions she did. She took a gamble and lost.

HF

Anonymous said...

She must have her Loudermill meeting tomorrow. That doesn't mean she will get fired tomorrow, it just means that is her last chance to plead her case before the decision is made. The superintendent is the person authority to made the decision under law, the board doesn't have a role.

-IMHO

Anonymous said...

What about the District's responsibility for placing the boy at Garfield, knowing he had been expelled from another school for groping on a field trip, and telling no one at Garfield about it? He should never have been allowed on the field trip and wouldn't have been if his history were known. Isn't the District's guilt as serious as that of the choir teacher?

Concerned parent

Melissa Westbrook said...

HF, great point. You'd think at Garfield, of all places, any teacher taking a field trip would be on alert and crossing those I's and dotting those T's.

Concerned parent, another good point. That would be up to the Board to talk to the Superintendent about that issue. And frankly, I would hope parents would e-mail the Board and ask for their review on what happened.

schoolboard@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

The district did make missteps here, but that doesn't absolve the teacher from what she did. I spoke about this in another thread on the topic (and sorry, not a frequent commenter, so I don't know what name I used), but I mentioned having a daughter with asthma and would not be happy to know that her chaperones were drinking at all. As it happens, my daughter just came home from a field trip related to education, but not through school. While there, she had a severe asthma attack, her first in almost 2 years. Had her chaperone not been with her and NOT DRINKING, who knows what would have happened. My kid is very proactive with her illness, but after such a long break from being sick, she didn't catch her symptoms until things were pretty bad.

I cannot support a teacher LEADING a field trip drinking on the job, and from what I recall, ignoring several other rules that were in place. I'm sure Garfield will continue to be a great school with great programs without her.

Asthma Mom

Anonymous said...

It appears that Carol Burton needs to read the report more carefully. Her transgressions over a period of years and on this trip add up to a lot more than 2.5 drinks.

If she has any expectation of continuing at Garfield, I hope she acknowledges that her failings go far beyond 2.5 drinks. She should admit to her failings and apologize in her quest to stay at Garfield. I wish her well.

It still seems to me that parent supervision on trips needs to be financially subsidized by the district to some extent.


-- Dan Dempsey

mirmac1 said...

From the Title IX Blog:
Settlement in Oregon case

Posted: 05 Aug 2015 12:47 PM PDT

The woman who filed a Title IX lawsuit against the University of Oregon, including basketball coach Dana Altman, has dropped the lawsuit as part of an $800,000 settlement. The student, who will also receive a waiver of her tuition and fees to finish her education at the university, believed that the coach knew that at least one of the players who allegedly assaulted her had been kicked off the basketball team at Providence College for participation in a gang rape.

We have written about the Oregon case, especially in light of the larger issue of a school's responsibility for and awareness of past incidents when accepting transfer student athletes. Brandon Austin--the player from Providence--is now playing for a junior college in Florida. We were very interested to see what would happen in this case, whether some kind of precedent would be sent or warning issued about accepting student athletes with records of violent and criminal behavior.

Anonymous said...


So if the boy wasn't on the trip and she still had a couple of drinks...I'm unclear what one has to do with the other except his behavior brought to light hers. It's either wrong or it's not.

KB

Ed said...

The board will do nothing as they have been rendered into merely a policy making body. They don't really appear to care if their policies are followed or not. Just staying happy, yet serious about only collegiality. This is what we are left with after the last 5 years of "reform".

Remind me, whose house was "the school house", in the board campaigns 4 years ago?

Patrick said...

HF, that's true but a separate issue. Yes, I would like to see the responsible person at District HQ punished for omitting to pass on the circumstances of the boy's expulsion.

But how can you expect the parent chaperones not to drink if the trip leader is drinking? How can you expect students to follow the rules if the chaperones and trip leader are flouting them in plain sight? The teacher suggested she not go on choir trips for three years; I would have suggested ever. But that means someone else would have to lead the choir trips, who would not have as much authority with the choir students as their teacher. I don't think it's reasonable to have someone who cannot lead the trips working as choir teacher. She knew all field trips are under a magnifying glass, she signed an agreement not to drink, and yet there she was. A great trip leader would have made it clear to chaperones that she expected the no drinking rule to be followed; a good trip leader would at least have not drunk herself to set a positive example for the other chaperones. It's a sad outcome, and yet I don't see how a slap on the wrist could possibly be adequate punishment in this situation.

Eric B said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but here's what I remember the investigation saying what went down on the trip, along with my questions:

Parent chaperones and Ms. Burton drank wine at dinner with students present
Parent chaperone got hammered and sexually harassed/assaulted a student (can't remember if it was just words* or not)
Students were in opposite-gender hotel rooms (did Ms. Burton know and not do anything?)
A student groped another student (was it reported properly?)

To me, the alcohol at dinner is the least of the possible offenses.

* "Just words" does not in any way excuse the behavior. The parent should be blacklisted from field trips if not charged with a crime.

Anonymous said...

If I were a teacher, I'd refuse to take the responsibility for being a field trip chaperone. True she shouldn't have had drinks, since alcohol was against the rule (I also don't consider the rule unreasonable, for the sake of drawing clear lines). But I don't regard the teacher responsible for the behavior of the other students (the groper, certainly, but also the students who violated the rules by allowing a student of the opposite sex into their room).

The expectations are too high for chaperones.

Anonymous said...

If I were a teacher, I'd refuse to take the responsibility for being a field trip chaperone. True she shouldn't have had drinks, since alcohol was against the rule (I also don't consider the rule unreasonable, for the sake of drawing clear lines). But I don't regard the teacher responsible for the behavior of the other students (the groper, certainly, but also the students who violated the rules by allowing a student of the opposite sex into their room).

The expectations are too high for chaperones.

zb

Anonymous said...

If I were a teacher, I'd refuse to take the responsibility for being a field trip chaperone. True she shouldn't have had drinks, since alcohol was against the rule (I also don't consider the rule unreasonable, for the sake of drawing clear lines). But I don't regard the teacher responsible for the behavior of the other students (the groper, certainly, but also the students who violated the rules by allowing a student of the opposite sex into their room).

The expectations are too high for chaperones.

zb

Melissa Westbrook said...

Eric, to clarify (from the investigation report):

- the parent who seemed under the influence - and this person was a doctor, mind you - had taken a prescription painkiller for back pain. And then had two drinks, one of them a cocktail. It is pretty unclear to me what was said in the hallway by either the male student or the parent (who was being helped back to the hotel). I don't think the parent sexually harassed anyone and other chaperones said they saw nothing (but, at some point, the male student appeared to have crossed paths with this parent).

- yes, several of the chaperones and Ms. Burton had drinks (most of them, one glass of wine) at dinner where students were present. (One chaperone had a beer at lunch one day with students).

- Ms. Burton set a later curfew than on previous trips. She also allowed students, male or female, into each other's rooms unsupervised. I'm more than a little surprised no parent chaperone asked her about this (but I saw nothing in the investigation).

My feeling is that Ms. Burton - with lax rules and drinking in front of students - set the tone for the trip and I would believe many students were happy to go along with the program. Is the boy's behavior her fault? It is not BUT I'm sure he felt empowered by the ease access to other students' rooms. She even said that even if she had known about his past at the other high school, she would have talked to him and possibly let him come. She clearly seems to be more the "friend" teacher than the adult teacher.

I don't think the expectations are too high for chaperones. If you are following the rules, the likelihood of anything happening is much, much lower. If you are following the rules, the students know you are being aware and watchful and it will be a tougher thing to try much. And, if you followed the rules, then anything that happens is directly on the shoulders of the students involved.

No one can be everywhere, all the time. But you are not liable for anything that goes wrong, if you followed the rules.

Anonymous said...

Just heard that carol and her lawyer will be on KIRO radio at 8:05 tonight.should be interesting.

Asthma Mom

cmj said...

Eric B, from the report, it seemed that the allegations of sexual harassment against the parent chaperone were a bit dubious. The attorney who investigated recommended that all of the volunteer chaperones who drank be forbidden from chaperoning field trips again.

I don't expect chaperones to be perfect, but I expect them to try. There are some things where you just have to do your best, such as making the judgment call about when to send a student home, or trying to tell if a student is high from marijuana or just exhausted (I would have trouble with that). No one's perfect, so you just try to do your best. Then there are things where you either do them or you don't, such as reading the chaperone guidelines and not drinking alcohol. Pretty simple. I'm more upset that the chaperones consumed alcohol after stating that they wouldn't than upset that alcohol was consumed.

Should the teacher be fired? No, I think that's a little extreme. (If the teacher had gotten drunk instead of just having a few drinks, I would feel differently.) Put her on probation, require her to apologize formally to the school, and ban her from running field trips. Make her do a workshop with students about how you can get impaired by alcohol by mixing meds or why you should really read things before you sign them. Or a workshop with other staff about why you should follow field trip guidelines to the letter.

SeattleSped said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mirmac1 said...

Here's my perspective based on recent experience.

First, I assume many future trips will be under the auspices of "booster groups" thus "releasing" the district from any liability or responsibility.

Second, I chaperoned a recent overnight where a kid was exhibiting inappropriate behavior that I IMMEDIATELY stopped, once I saw it. What do I know about the kid's history - zilch beyond what my student revealed after the fact (which tells me this kid merits watching).

Finally, I reject the assertion that teenagers will blindly model a chaperone's legal behavior (I'd be very surprised they read the chaperone form). Now if chaperones were driving drunk or sucking on a ginormous hookah, then maybe so.

HR will try to whitewash things and absolve the district of any culpability, but as you see from the Oregon case I posted above, plausible deniability or lawyering up does not protect our kids nor the district. What would be best is to fully inform teachers and chaperones in advance, and make the determination whether the student should be put in this setting.

Anonymous said...

What Ms. Burton said on the radio was that the rule against male and female students being in the same room was new, that she had always allowed it in the past and deliberately ignored the new rule because she thought it was unfair to treat LBGT students as ok to be in same sex rooms while straight kids couldn't be trusted to be in opposite sex rooms together. She placed all the blame for the groping on the district, which she says does not listen to and is not interested in teacher opinion. She restated that the 2 drinks were the "most expensive in her life" and admitted responsibility for those.

Nothing was said by anyone about the other chaperons and their behavior. Both Ms. Burton and her lawyer repeatedly said that she'd led many trips for years for a total of 2,400 student without incident and that hundredsof parents, students and alumni from all over the world wanted her to remain at her job. They also said they would appeal if she is fired.

Her overall theme-yes she was wrong, but the district was worse so she should remain, but is willing to give up field trips for three years and take 10 days without pay.

Asthma Mom

Charlie Mas said...

The girls were reluctant to report the sexual harassment/assault because they didn't want the teacher to get into trouble. They knew that the report of the incident would lead to an investigation. They knew that the investigators would learn that Ms Burton had allowed students of both sexes into each other's hotel rooms - in violation of the field trip rules. They knew this because that's where the first incident occurred.

The student accused of sexual harassment/assault, in the context of that investigation, blew the whistle on the chaperones' drinking. Again, the girls knew about the drinking, knew that it was a violation of the field trip rules, and were concerned that it could come to light if they reported the sexual harassment/assault.

This is the harm that was done when Ms Burton and the chaperones broke the rules. The students were reluctant to report the sexual harassment/assault to keep the teacher out of trouble.

Grace Corsi said...

I agree, it was an irresponsible risk for Carol Burton to take when she chose to consume alcoholic drinks on the New Orleans field trip. However, the fact remains, Carol Burton was and is in no way responsible for the events that occurred on the trip regarding the sexual assault. To insinuate that her "lax" standards may have encouraged the offender to be more bold in his actions is ridiculous. The fact is, the offender had been expelled from a previous school for a similar incident, and during the trip had conducted similar actions in public locations outside of the hotel, including a public trolley. Clearly, he was determined to carry out his actions regardless of supervision. Instead of trying to place blame on adults for the student's actions, we should be looking for constructive ways to address the issues of sexual assault in schools through forums, education and community healing.

I don't think firing Carol will put an end to these problems. As a student who has attended many field trips, I have witnessed many SPS employees having a drink while chaperoning students. In no way has this impaired any chaperones judgement or ability to responsibly handle students, as far as I have observed. I never felt unsafe, at risk, or improperly supervised. Firing Carol will not prevent future incidents of alcohol consumption from occurring, nor do I believe that her offense warrants such a harsh punishment. We as a community should try to learn from these events in order to move forward, improve our school system and the safety of the children in it. Making an example and scapegoat of an extremely successful, loved and overall responsible teacher will not serve SPS in a positive way, nor will it actually address the problems that continually occur on field trips. How can we move forward as a community when we simply punish without attempting to change behavior of future teachers or educate students?

Melissa Westbrook said...

"To insinuate that her "lax" standards may have encouraged the offender to be more bold in his actions is ridiculous."

We'd have to disagree but my experience with teens - raising two and volunteering to work with/around them - is that teens do take their cues from adults. As well, people who have predatory behavior look for openings and I believe Burton gave him that opening. (The issue over whether he was sexually harassed by the incapacitated parent was one such opening I believe he seized on.)

As I said, you'd have to read the report because Burton said she would still have considered bringing him on the trip even if she had known of his past behavior.

I am quite surprised that you could state that drinking does not impair judgement or ability. For some people, one drink can (I'm a small person and I know this.)

I would have thought that Garfield - internally - would have learned from the Nature Bridge incident but apparently not. You say that there are "problems that continually occur on field trips." How is it that Garfield seems to have an issue with field trips?

If people are not learning from past mistakes and not learning when policies are strengthened and restated to them, then yes, maybe someone needs to be held accountable.

Anonymous said...

Carol Burton was and is in no way responsible for the events that occurred on the trip regarding the sexual assault.

You can't know this.

According to the National Sex Offender Public Website:
- Only about 30% of sexual assault cases are reported to authorities.
- Teens 16 to 19 years of age were 3 ½ times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.
- 75% of the female victims of rape/sexual assault were victimized by people they know.
- Approximately 1 in 5 female high school students report being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner.

By allowing kids to be in mixed-gender rooms, she made it easier for other sexual assaults to happen as well. Teens are a high risk population for sexual abuse, and when you provide lax oversight it makes it all too easy for incidents to occur...and for them to go unreported. Teens probably love the freedom she gives them, but I'm pretty sure that some take advantage of it--engaging in behaviors that may be mutually desired, up until the point at which things cross a line and consent is no longer there... But then there's the guilt, the shame, the sense that you brought it on yourself...and the fear over how you'll be treated if you report a classmate or get your teacher-friend in trouble. For Ms. Burton to assert that there's never been an incident on a past fieldtrip seems very naive to me, especially for someone who supposedly understands teens. Teens will sneak around to do things they aren't supposed to, sure. But the job of the teacher isn't to facilitate that.

HF

Patrick said...

Charlie put it very well. The drinking created the impression that what you've agreed to do doesn't matter and what actually happens doesn't matter, the important thing is keeping quiet about it. The girls who were victims could have reported the incidents the first day and the boy would have either been sent home or watched very closely, except for the girls' fear of what would happen if they reported what was happening.

I'm also put off by Burton's idea that it was unfair to a keep a boy who identified as gay in a room with other boys. Sexuality doesn't stay put in neat little boxes labelled gay and straight, especially among teens who are often still figuring out their orientation. But people are used to sharing bathrooms and locker rooms with their own sex without anything sexual happening. If this boy had been in a room with other boys, it seems much more likely that he would not have found peers and witnesses willing to accept groping, and his victims would have no reason to keep silent about it in case there was an investigation.

I'm sorry Garfield will (apparently) lose a good choir teacher, but I don't see any alternative here. If she were just teaching in a classroom she'd probably be fine, but leading trips is part of what the choir teacher is expected to do.

Melissa Westbrook said...

And Patrick, how can the district write rules about field trips around who sleeps in what room? I just don't understand how that can happen. It puts a lot of pressure on a school group to figure this out.

What I understood from the investigation report, neither the male student nor the other boys in that room were uncomfortable about anyone's sexuality. It sounded like it was more personality conflicts but it's hard to say.

Anonymous said...

Apparently the choir teacher at Hale is still in limbo. No decision has been made whether he is returning or not. Drinking among students occurred on the Reno trip and it wasn't handled appropriately. It doesn't sound like the parents at the school want him back so you haven't heard much about it.

HP

Anonymous said...

"As I said, you'd have to read the report because Burton said she would still have considered bringing him on the trip even if she had known of his past behavior."

That's interesting, Melissa. In the radio interview she stated more than once that she would NEVER have allowed him on the trip if she had known. In fact, both she and the lawyer said that he would never have been allowed in school at all, had the administration known. At the very LEAST, she said, she would not have allowed him in her class, nor on the trip. Both she and the lawyer also said that since the boy groped other students all through the trip, it's not like his being in the room with them was the real problem. The more I hear from her, the less I'm impressed.

Asthma Mom

Melissa Westbrook said...

Asthma Mom, that is interesting. I will go back and review the report but I have that in one thread as what I read from the report.

Anonymous said...

I can only wonder which of her narratives is true-would she have brought him or not? The interviewer, Jason Rantz, asked her several times about the boy and who knew what when. She insisted that it was all on the district and she would never have been ok with him being on the trip had she known.

Asthma Mom

Anonymous said...

Grace Corsi said, "I have witnessed many SPS employees having a drink while chaperoning students".

I have been on about six overnight trips as a chaperone and have never seen anyone drinking alcohol. Like I occasionally tell my students the defense of "well, everybody is speeding" isn't going to hold water with the police/courts. If you're doing something wrong and get caught it's still on you. I actually didn't know 100% for sure that there was a strict no alcohol policy, but it just makes sense and good judgment just tells me this is kind of obvious.

That said, given the public results of the last 2 years overnight field trips I have absolutely made up my mind that I'm NOT going to offer to chaperone any overnight field trips - not worth risking one's career over. Not totally sure this is fair.

I'd be more accepting of the termination if the downtown staffer who didn't advise of the history of the boy was also terminated - despite my "really?" concerns with the teacher's supervision, with only the teacher being terminated this one again sounds like the district shuffle protecting its own and blaming the teachers first for all the problems without any district-level accountability.

SPS Teacher

Melissa Westbrook said...

I will double-check on the SPS staffer.

I am checking on Ms. Burton's comments. They weren't in the investigation report itself but I believe they were part of the interview with her and her lawyer (meaning, the exhibits).

Anonymous said...

In fact, both she and the lawyer said that he would never have been allowed in school at all, had the administration known. At the very LEAST, she said, she would not have allowed him in her class, nor on the trip.

What a ridiculous comment. Students are students.... until they are not. Choir teachers, no matter how lauded, do not get to cherry pick students, no matter how "bad". They do not (or should not) get to pick who their students are, nor who participates in extracurricular. If a student is a danger, he needs adequate support or a different placement. It's really that simple. If the district makes a dangerous placement without informing the school, then that's on them.

Reader

cmj said...

Asthma Mom said " In the radio interview...both she and the lawyer said that he would never have been allowed in school at all, had the administration known."

How accurate is that assertion? He wouldn't have been the first student at Garfield -- or any local high school -- with discipline issues. Certainly, students with major discipline problems that a local school can't handle end up at specialized schools like Interagency, but I don't think that his offenses at his previous school were so bad that Garfield couldn't handle him.

Anonymous said...

Reader and cmj-that's what struck me about the comments. At first she was just saying she wouldn't have brought him on the trip. Then she added that she wouldn't have even let him in the class. The district clearly screwed up, but she seemed to be saying she had no responsibility at all in what happened. I'm just a parent, but even I know that teachers don't get to choose which kids are in their classes. I would guess the same with clubs. I haven't looked, but I'm hoping KIRO made the interview available on their website.It was long-almost 30 minutes.

Asthma Mom

Lynn said...

cmj,

Students who have been long-term suspended from another district are (in theory) automatically assigned to Interagency.

http://www.scribd.com/doc/269524433

Garfield administrations told the investigator hired by the district that had they known of the student's disciplinary record they would likely have opposed his transfer to Garfield and at the very least would have imposed conditions on him to protect the safety of other student - including denying him permission to go on the New Orleans field trip.

https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2109061-ghs-investigative-report-final.html

Melissa,

There is a footnote on the bottom of page 20 in the report that indicates Ms. Burton stated the student would very likely not have been permitted to go on the field trip to New Orleans if she had known of his suspension.

Reader,

Teachers are often allowed to "cherry pick" students. Students need teacher approval to register for AP classes. At Garfield, while enrollment in entry-level elective courses is open to all, permission is generally required to enroll in any higher level classes. In the performing arts, this can include an audition. If she had known that he'd been expelled from another school for his behavior on a field trip to New Orleans in the previous year, she could have assigned him to a choir that does not travel. If we expect teachers to be responsible for student safety while out of town, it's only reasonable to allow them to exclude some students based upon prior behavior.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Lynn, I think something else was stated in the letter from Burton's lawyer. I'll have to find it.

cmj said...

Lynn,

Thanks for letting me know about district policy and Interagency.

Anonymous said...

Yeah but! It looks like students are only assigned to interagency for the purposes of having a record, and that they are never really required to go to school there. Big deal. That seems more like the usual district record keeping incompetence than anything else. And really. I've never heard of a teacher being able to keep students out of a class. They can't really require signatures - they can only recommend it. Parents in the know can work this.

Reader