Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Carol Burton will be back at Garfield

Judge George Finkle decided that the district's decision to dismiss Garfield choir teacher Carol Burton for procedure violations during a choir field trip to New Orleans was excessive. See the Seattle Times article here.


Anonymous said...

On the one hand I am very happy that the Garfield community gets its very beloved and excellent choir teacher back. This was excessive.

On the other I am distressed by legal precedent which makes it harder to dismiss lower performing teachers, when I already think that is too hard in this district.


Kate said...

I agree that this may be an unfortunate precedent.

Anonymous said...

Great - NOT. Just another example of how, at Garfield, you don't have to follow the rules. Just fight back, be entitled, and you'll get "your job" back. And talk about another example of unprofessional behavior - see quote from Seattle Times below:

"At the end of a news conference Tuesday, she whooped and pumped her fists in the air.
“Thank God, it’s over,” she said. “I’m back, baby.” "

No remorse, no understanding of the bad example she has set for students and families.


Kate said...

Reading the ST story, I am disappointed by this: "her misconduct was significant, but given her contributions to the Garfield community, her mistakes shouldn't have resulted in her termination." Doesn't this essentially indicate that someone with strong support from the loudest community members can get away with breaking the rules? That's not exactly the lesson I hope to instill in my kids.

ruthie scollan said...

Burton has time and time again expressed remorse and acknowledged her rules violations. So she cheered at the news of her reinstatement. Go on with your self-righteous self. The blame here lies with SPS for sending the serial abuser student in that trip without reveling his history to Garfield of Burton. Their risk management failed.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Does anyone know how to find the ruling?

The district still can limit Ms. Burton's autonomy. They may have to take Ms. Burton back but that doesn't mean she will come back in the same capacity. Meaning, the district could say that she can no longer go on field trips (which I advocated for given her poor judgment on the field trip in question.)

I, too, wish she made some kind of mea culpa.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Ruthie, I'm sorry but I missed when she expressed remorse (and I mean that sincerely.) Where and when did she do this?

Relieved Choir Parent said...

The concerns about this as a "precedent" shouldn't be significant. This case was always about degree of punishment, not someone "getting away" with something. The District and schools statewide must follow standards in disciplinary decisions. You don't give the death penalty for every crime - some crimes deserve probation, some suspensions, some termination. Due process requirements and regulations for public employees and union contracts for Seattle teachers provide most of these rules and standards.

Regarding Ms Burton's remorse, she has expressed it many, many times. She has been through over a year of h*ll. She admitted her mistakes - in court and in public. But she was also rightfully angry at the reckless and arbitrary manner in which the District handled this incident and her disciplinary decision. And a court of law has now agreed with her. She has every right to be happy - and isn't it good to have a teacher who is this happy to be going back to the classroom, to do what she loves? Yes, she got her job back, but this is a teacher who most suffered from being separated from her students and program.

Teachers are human. They make mistakes. District administrators are human too - and make mistakes. All happened here. It's now time for everyone to move on - teachers, parents, and District - and work to do better in the future.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Admitting mistakes is not the same thing as expressing remorse.

Joseph Rockne said...

Judge George Finkle is with JDR (Judicial Dispute Resolution).

This was a private arbitration? Is this the normal procedure for matters like this?

Did he issue a written ruling with findings of fact/conclusions of law? Will this be made public or does it go into a personal file and then not be subject to FOIA?

Anonymous said...

This is NOT precedent setting. Other venues may reference this ruling but, unless a higher court or tribunal affirms the ruling based on consistent principled rules (which are not present here), they are on shaky ground on this front as they should be. Is ANY break from procedures a fire-able offense? I doubt it, I think its more who you know and whose butt you kiss. (Hello Sarah Pritchett)

I think there were 2 questions (some in court, others not):

If this teacher broke the rules, were procedures followed (no)

If a student was assaulted, what was the proximate cause (not the teacher).


Anonymous said...

So had SPS set a precedent a few years back by effectively disciplining the Garfield HS teachers who were responsible for lax supervision on the NatureBridge fieldtrip (during which a sexual assault occurred), would SPS have been in a better position to justify its termination of Ms. Burton?

-- Chaperone

Erik Tanen said...

You can get a copy at the clerks office. It is usually filed within a week. Might even be online.

Erik Tanen said...

Is the administrators who failed in their job, being disciplined or is it only for teachers. Wasn't this process lauded over by the executive director.

Patrick said...

Did they ever locate the person or people in District headquarters who didn't pass on the reason for the boy's expulsion from his previous school? Did they even try?

Anonymous said...

I can't believe she has been reinstated to her original job when she admitted to not following procedures which to me, as a parent, are pretty important to follow. I do NOT blame the assault on her, and I believe the people who were responsible for that information downtown need to be disciplined. However, I also don't think that excuses Ms. Burton's blatant disregard of the rules.
What a message this sends. Can't wait for the 5th grade camps this spring when teachers are basically allowed to sit around the campfire and drink with the parents. This should be interesting.


Melissa Westbrook said...

I think between Nature Bridge and New Orleans it certainly is unclear to teachers about field trip expectations.

Patrick, I'm sure they know who didn't pass on the reason but we will never know who it is nor if they were questioned about it.

Anonymous said...

What a bunch of ridiculous puritanical rule mongers. Seriously 2.5 drinks. I can't imagine any chaperone sticking to that for a whole week. What about smoking "legal weed"? If anybody thinks their kids are going to be watched, without relief for every minute of a weeklong field trip, they are absurd. To have this type of expectation, you ensure kids are LESS SAFE. Why? Because they will be understandably reluctant to report any issues. What kid would report the groping next time? When there's such an idiotic response, and they might get their teacher fired? What teacher is going to go on any field trip, especially at Garfield?

Stop being unrealistic Puritans. You're making I worse.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Reader, name calling is never great so let's not do that. Disagree without doing that.

Also, you do know that 2.5 drinks could probably get you pulled over for DUI? And if a parent on a trip suddenly needed to be on point for a student who may get hurt and needs an adult to take charge that 2.5 drinks could interfere with that?

Parents have a right to believe that the people who go on these trips will watch over their children.

Josh Hayes said...

I would suggest that anyone who can't go without drinking for the duration of a field trip should not be going on field trips. Nothing puritanical about it: you're there to supervise a bunch of kids. If you don't think teachers should be having drinks in the classroom, then you shouldn't approve of chaperones doing so either while "on duty", and on a trip like this, guess what? You're on duty 24/7. You never know when you'll be called on to step up and make grown-up decisions, and you can't have even the appearance of being impaired.

As for this particular case, I agree with Melissa: I think this particular teacher should not be going on any field trips any time soon.

Jet City mom said...

I agree Josh.
To be a chaperone does not mean you are on vacation, it does not mean you get a break from being responsible for all the children present, and in order to be responsible, you have to be sober, undistracted and present. Certainly you get a break to sleep, but if needed, you have to be alert. I had to get up and follow my middle school girls, in the middle of the night for example, because they had plotted to meet the boys, Its possible it might have been harmless, but I was not going to take that chance.( my own daughter was not in my cabin, are you kidding?)

Some may like Burton's way of teaching, but is the lesson theyll remember, the one she intended?

I suggest that the district have a safety workshop and at least two chaperones on each field trip attend the workshop.
Instructions for first procedures etc, should be covered. Since schools tend to go to the same places, they could have a panel discussion to learn what worked and what didn't and how to make it a worthwhile educational experience.
Private schools don't always use parents as chaperones, they hire them. That could also be an option, if parents

Patrick said...

Do you take a six pack to your school's pizza night?

Anonymous said...

Speaking as a potential chaperon for a trip at another school, I would say that none of this turmoil seems to be translating into anything like, oh, for instance, training and orientation on our responsibilities? I am very concerned.

Concerned dad

Anonymous said...

The woman admits to 2.5 drinks over the course of a week. Big Deal. That's nothing. It's not 2.5 in a day, nor a 6 pack on any night. And she probably needed it. Clearly the chaperones felt they did. Seriously. We are in serious jeopardy of not being able to take students on field trips any more, nor have sports teams (because this too is becoming onerous, the number of hoops and unrealistic promises). Think about the coaching (only because it is related). Coaches are not permitted to drive students - yet, most coaches are responsible for students and games in situations where they are actually required to drive because the busses are available for so few sports. And all the kids who have absolutely no way to get anywhere - depend on coach drivers.... yet the district says "no driving". Guess what folks. That's the district doing cya. Inact requirements and trainings around "no driving"... yet requiring driving in order to have a team in the first place. It's a no win situation where the district really does expect people to break the rules to get the work done - yet it creates the rules simply for cya. Isn't this the same thing? Let's all unwed our undies, and take a big breath. The right thing happened here - and the district should have a bigger black eye. If for no other reason than the court costs for ridiculosity.


Charlie Mas said...

Field trips are school activities and, on school activities, all of the regular school rules apply. So, in the context of the rules, drinking on a field trip is no different from drinking in class. Hence the weight it is given.
I'm certain that were the drinking more discrete - away from where the students could see it or know about it - it would not have become an issue.

The district staff person who made the decision not to pass along the information about the student's discipline history is known and has not been disciplined because that decision was within the scope of the employee's authority to decide based on her professional judgement. The employee has the duty of deciding what information is passed along and what is not, and did not break any rule and therefore is not subject to any punishment. You can question her judgement, but she didn't break any rules.

Finally, let's remember that Ms Burton will be disciplined for her violations of the procedures. No one is getting away with anything here. She will be disciplined, just not fired.

Dave W. said...


To me the point is that the "I just love to fire people" credo in the District's Labor Relations Department (direct quote repeated many times) has not served the District well.

This over-reach is what you get and the HR Executive Director (Jones) during the entire period needs to be held accountable too. Not just given a desk and phone to draw a salary at.

Jet City mom said...

If field trips and sports participation are an interest, then the school can make it work within legal guidelines.
If they need to hire a bus, the kids can hold bakesales & carwashes to do so.
They dont need charter buses, yellow buses go to the same place.
Since Garfield has a history of employing teachers and counselors with questionable judgement ( including principal & vice- principal), I wouldn't expect discipline to be very meaningful.

It concerns me that some dont feel its reasonable for chaperones and parents to refrain from substances when supervising children.
Supervising children including high school students requires ATLEAST as much thought and attention as driving.
Isnt it prohibited on the form? ( Apparently not, perhaps that should e changed)

Anonymous said...

And the parade of naivete and denial continues....

I've got an idea folks: Do a better job of raising kids so they don't grope people or sneak out of cabins at night to go have sex with other students. How about that?

Or what about this: If you drop a known groper into a group of unsuspecting kids, how about informing someone, at least, of the groper's past or propensities? If not for that incident, there'd have been no firing of Burton, as anyone with a pulse knows.

Burton broke a rule. She didn't grope or allegedly rape anyone, nor did she get drunk. Regardless, "tough on crime" SPS went full CYA JackAss and threw her under the bus to make an example. The firing was overkill times ten when suspension, discipline, involuntary leave, counseling, or even rehab were on the table. If poor judgment is enough to fire teachers, close down SPS today.

"But rules are rules" is always the mindless mantra of the untouched.


Anonymous said...

Its interesting to see the contradictions on the blog this week.

On one hand, we have a 5th Grade Camp trip that is cancelled because a couple of students are unable to maintain appropriate behavior and the school has been unsuccessful at keeping them inside the lines. Over in that thread, we have parents repeating over and over again that school activities are for all, and if all can't go, no one can go.

Meanwhile, over here, we have a high school kid who had a past history of bad behavior. No one told the teacher, and she took the relatively new to her class student on a trip. His bad behavior led to the uncovering of her bad behavior and she is fired, then reinstated. In this thread, and in past ones on the subject, we hear, if only the district had told Burton about his past, she would never have taken him and this wouldn't have happened.

Wait, are school activities for all, and if all can't go, no one can go? Or do we still actually have the ability to enforce punishments for bad behavior?

Which Way?

Lynn said...

The big question here is whether the student's behavior is related to a disability. If so, they must be provided with the support needed to participate in school activities. If it's not related to a disability, I think it should be possible to exclude them as a disciplinary or precautionary measure.

It's not just the district staff member who knew this boy presented a safety risk - his parents did too. What were they thinking sending him on that field trip?

If the kids at Stevens or the Garfield groper were mine, I'd be chaperoning every field trip and volunteering during recess until the issue was resolved. Where are the parents?

Melissa Westbrook said...

In this thread, and in past ones on the subject, we hear, if only the district had told Burton about his past, she would never have taken him and this wouldn't have happened."

No, that's what others have said but the record, Ms. Burton's own words from the investigation show that she would have wanted to know about the student's past issues but that she still would have considered taking him. You can read it for yourself.

If you read the investigation, you can see what the student's mother did and didn't do.

Lynn, c'mon. Most parents work and cannot be at recess at their child's school. It's up to the school to do its job.

GarfieldMom said...

Deciding whether to inform the school was NOT within the authority of the district staff person. By not informing Garfield staff, the district violated the CBA and state law, as pointed out in testimony and as the judge noted in his decision. Yes, I have read it.

Melissa is right, Ms. Burton stated that if she were required to take him, she would have, and she would have had a plan to protect the boy and other students.

Anonymous said...

I believe Ms. Burton apologized at the very beginning of this saga in a news conference. I know she wrote a hand-written apology letter to the choir students a few weeks after New Orleans, and it was read out loud at the spring choir family BBQ and concert. That was a real apology letter to the students and families in the choir. I believe in various comments she has made over the past year she did not just regret the actions but actually spoke remorsefully of her errors.

Lynn said...


I know most parents aren't available to be at school. I'd consider the kids at Stevens to be in crisis though - and would react to it in that way. Are they supporting the school in changing their child's behavior? If this has been going on all year, it doesn't seem like they are.

As for the Garfield student, if they could afford to send him to private school, they likely have more flexibility than most.

I guess I'm just expressing how shocked I'd be if my child's behavior caused so much trouble at school.

Anonymous said...


You're assuming the school is trying to change the behavior. My son was at Stevens and he was on track to being one of those 'bad kids' - I didn't even start getting notification that he was being sent to the office until a couple weeks in (and once I got a discipline report that covered three days' worth of incidents - that was super useful). The only strategies the school used when he was acting out were sending him out of the classroom (with 27 kids at the start of the year, some others of whom had their own issues) to the resource room or sometimes to the office to hang out with the secretaries. When I met with Ms. Archer (after asking for a couple months) all she had for me was to suggest we get him enrolled in Special Ed and it was going to take another month and a half to even start the process (this was in December and my son was screaming and hitting me every day for about twenty minutes when it was time to leave the house to go to school). I promise I was as involved as a person with a full-time job could be (yes, I chaperoned all the field trips), and we pulled him from the school when the daily reports his teacher sent us (which have to have been a significant investment of time on her part) indicated that he was really having no good days at all. I got no other communications from anyone in administration at all. If we hadn't had the ability to pull him out HE'D be one of 'those kids' now and I don't know what else I could have done. Yes, it was shocking; it was the only thing I thought about for months, and I had no control over what happened to him for the six hours a day he spent there. If you don't actually know what the situation is, I suggest considering defaulting to sympathy.

Former Stevens

Anonymous said...

Schools are provided buses for sports events. Some schools try to save that money for equipment, etc and instead rely on carpools. Carpools can be driven by parents and students. Typically, a bus will take the kids to an event and then there will be carpools home. The one problem with taking the school buses is that you have to leave the home school at 1 PM so the students can end up losing a lot of class time and have long waits at the hosting school for the game. There are not enough school buses to provide a more timely bus ride.


Lynn said...

I apologize. I've been forming opinions without adequate information. I hope your current school is working out for your family.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that. For the record, he is doing much better now, and the things that worked weren't magical:

- A school with a consistent philosophy of discipline (they use Positive Discipline but I almost think anything would have worked if it was consistently applied)
- Consistent communication with parents
- A class size of sixteen
- An aide in the classroom
- A consulting behaviorist to provide guidance to everyone involved
- A counselor to work with him on awareness of his emotions and being able to verbalize them
- An extra staff member to take him out to recess with a small group to practice what he'd learned for a few weeks before throwing him back to full recess

His new school, as I'm sure you can guess from the list, isn't in the Seattle District.

In my opinion, yes, a lot of this is on admin but also important is the fact that we don't have the funding to have class sizes small enough or enough extra hands to help out when kids need extra help. Both are critical pieces.

Former Stevens

Patrick said...

Jet City Mom, the form that you linked to is from Orange County, Florida. I'm pretty sure I remember from the investigative report that the chaperones and Ms. Burton (and possibly the students?) signed an agreement that they would not be using alcohol during the trip.

Katie said...

I have four kids in SPS and almost 20 years of the endless drama of truly terrible HR decisions.

There are always a handful of dramatic events every year and at least one truly terrible each year. At some point, we should just being to refer to the academic years by the HR disastrous overreaction to excellence.

Martin Floe
John Greenberg
Carol Burton
David Elliot

At some point, it really beings to look and feel like there is a dedicated person in HR, whose job it is to pick a small problem and turn it into community outrage.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Former Stevens, I'm going to do a write-up on the meeting but the failures at the administrative level are jaw-dropping (including, as you stated, no records at that level of misbehavior.)

Dave W. said...


That is what Labor Relations does, there are 3 times as many FTE's there as there were just a few years ago and the recently departed "Director" bragged to ME many times that he loved "to fire people".

He was only here a year and a half but the taxpayers will be cleaning up his mess for years.

Johnny Calcagno said...

Probably not surprisingly, the District seems to be dragging their feet on reinstating Carol Burton at Garfield, which in my opinion should have happened immediately after the court case finished. The choir students, after a year of ineffectual or non-existent leadership - they have essentially been teaching themselves - are disappointed and angry. They will be having a press conference tomorrow to discuss the situation.

I’m trying to wrap my head around the fact that the District apparently had no plan in place in the event they lost their case. They should have been ready to go with some kind of response.

Anonymous said...

Former Steven's are you able to share the new school? On the hunt for a school that can provide support like that. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, it's a public school in a nearby district and we're only able to send him out of district because my husband is a teacher there (which is why I'm being cagey about naming it). If we hadn't been able to do that I think we would have started by looking at Thurgood Marshall because I've heard better things about it, but I don't have any first-hand knowledge about it. I'm relieved for myself but still so angry about all the other kids who are still stuck in a bad situation, so I really feel for you. Sorry.

Former Stevens

Anonymous said...

Oh, and Melissa, I'll be very interested to read your writeup. I'm not in the loop anymore but I admit I'm curious just how far down the rabbit hole goes.

concerned teacher said...

Much has been implied by the Seattle Public School District about Carol Burton’s rule violations on the New Orleans field trip jeopardizing the safety of the students in her choir.

But the greater violation – by far – is that of the School District. The District knew about the past history of one of Carol’s students – a history that included this student’s having been expelled from a previous school for sexual harassment. The administrators from this previous school, in fact, went out of their way to state that they believed the student was likely to re-offend if sufficient interventions and treatment were not implemented. On the field trip in question with Carol’s Garfield choir, the student again – as predicted – sexually harassed several other students.

Somehow, this information about the student’s past was not disclosed to Carol or other relevant staff at Garfield. This failure by the District jeopardized the safety of all of the participants on the field trip – as was admitted by Supt. Larry Nyland under oath. It was also a clear violation of the collective bargaining agreement between the District and the Seattle Education Association. Specifically, the district’s failure to inform Carol violated Article III, Section G of the current binding contract, signed by both Superintendent Larry Nyland and senior administrator Brent Jones. Further, this reckless failure by the District also was a clear violation of state law, specifically, RCW 28a.225.330 subsection 6.

In short, the District violated the contract, broke the law, and in so doing put the safety of all the field trip participants at risk. People who earn six-figure salaries and knowingly violate state law thereby threatening student safety might seem to warrant some measure of accountability – an accountability to which none have been held thus far. But given these facts, the claim by the District somehow to be concerned for student welfare or student safety strains credulity.

Anonymous said...

Folks, the judge seemed quite clear and made a decision similar to those I’ve made/seen under the guidance of a competent HR manager in an ethical enterprise that attracts and retains higher than average people.

“We are disappointed . . . the district believed it was important to send a clear message that student safety is a top priority”.

A couple of glasses of wine . . . a suspension would make sense. The judge was clear and severe in the length of the suspension he thought reasonable for an “outstanding”, hard to replace teacher who violated policy: one year.
I understand that Larry was made to look like one of the Stooges when asked what he would have done to prevent the “inappropriate touching”. Sounds like the judge realized that a teacher cannot be fully responsible, before or after the fact, for preventing every scenario of bad student behavior imaginable during a24 hour day. A glass of wine does not impair. Add to that, someone kinda sort of didn’t think it important to tell the teacher that there was a student with a history of bad behavior, and you end up with my perception that Larry and his administration are not thorough, ineffective and most of all intentional in creating an environment of fear and uncertainty rather than a safe learning and work environment. Sounds a bit like a group of bullies?

So the judge looked at all the critical facts and decided the teacher had been punished enough. His decision lines up nicely with sentencing standards used in courts. Seems like the punishment is about right . . . and the best message to help expose the personal ethics of Larry and those hands who warm armchairs downtown.

Dave W. said...

Hey Johnny:

Again, that's the SSD Labor Relations Department: All "love to fire people" and NO PLAN except to let others follow thru in their own sweet time.

Ask most District employees and you will find we are treated as enemies in LR.

The 'culture of lawlessness' begins and ends there the last few years. Began with MGJ.

Anonymous said...

Has Ms. Burton returned to the classroom? I see it's been a few days.

Anonymous said...

Is Judge Finkle's ruling posted? Hearing transcript available? Where?