Seattle Schools Teacher Keeps Job Even Though He Left Students Alone on Field Trip

Update:  I did read the investigation.  Not good on any measure.  The number of times Mr. Gundle said something like "in hindsight" he might have done things differently is deeply disappointing.  The number of things done out of policy is deeply troubling.  That the other teacher on the trip - it was her first field trip - did not question or confirm many details on the trip, either before or during the trip, is concerning.

It's astonishing that Gundle allowed someone's 19-year old boyfriend on the trip and left the kids without a group announcement (he says he talked to each kid separately), reminding them about the gender tent rule and allowed kids to drive other kids back to Seattle (one without a seatbelt.)

And, once again, we have chaperones paying lip service to district policies on field trip.  I'm beginning to think that the district should have a moratorium on field trips; there are real safety issues here.

I realize this is a personnel matter but if you compare what happened on the Garfield choir trip to this trip, I believe the latter is much worse.  And yet Carol Burton was fired (and later reinstated.)

end of update

I had only vaguely heard about this issue but apparently an investigation happened and the results are in.  From the My Northwest:

A Ballard High School teacher remains on the job, even after an investigation found he “abandoned” high school students on an overnight field trip with no one but one of the student’s 19-year-old boyfriend.

Why did he leave them? So he could attend a Seattle teacher’s union protest.

Even though the Seattle Public School District recommended Noam Gundle be fired for conduct that put these students “at great risk…,” Seattle Schools Superintendent Dr. Larry Nyland imposed just a 10-day unpaid suspension and he won’t explain why. Meanwhile, Gundle still has his job.
I have not read the entire investigative report (it's in the newsstory) but this is not good.  I find the justification for Mr. Gundle's actions weak.  They are not justifications I would expect from a teacher who is in charge of the field trip and the safety of every student attending.
On June 18, 2015, Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Dr. Brent C. Jones wrote to Gundle to explain that the recommendation from the district that “there is probable cause to terminate your employment as a teacher for abandoning students during a District sponsored overnight field trip.”

Gundle fought the recommendation with the help of his union representative, arguing the termination was too harsh. After meeting with Superintendent Nyland, Gundle successfully lobbied to avoid termination, instead earning just a 10-day suspension without pay. He was also told he couldn’t host overnight field trips for two years, nor day field trips for one year.


Anonymous said…
Noam is a great teacher and a great advocate. But this was an inexcusable and reckless decision on his part. He's undermined himself and put his union in a bad spot, and apparently through sheer arrogance. I don't know if he should have been fired, but he is very lucky that he was not. He ought to beg forgiveness for screwing up like this.

Beaver Alum
Beaver Alum, I know him somewhat and as a good educator. But agreed, very bad judgment.
Anonymous said…
I cannot believe how inconsistently SPS treats teachers. I don't think we should stop field trips altogether, but it does really boggle that this man is allowed to keep his job. Incredible. Is the quality of union representation just incredibly variable? Or does sps, as I fear, react overly harshly when things are public and underharshly when things are not?

Po3 said…
One difference I noted in these cases (GHS v BHS) is that GHS played out in the media and on this blog---extensively. BHS case did not. They were going on at the same time, yet the first media piece is just now publishing and this is the first post on the topic.

The Greenberg case at Center School also played out in the media with very negative results for that teacher.

I have to wonder if the media attention pisses off the district and results in sharper punishments?
Anonymous said…
Ok, so SPS is hesitant to fire other teachers for similar transgressions since Ms Burton got reinstated. Understandable about starting fresh this fall? Send a clear letter to all teachers, principals and school staff that things will be different from here on on out, and they will be held liable for violations of field trip policies. Tell them there's a new punishment scale for field trip violations. Spell out the specifics if need be: drinking alcohol or using drugs, abandoning students, allowing unauthorized chaperones or guests, allowing unapproved transportation, allowing unauthorized rooming arrangements, failure to provide reasonable supervision, etc., all warrant termination. Make the union sign off on it. Does the union really want to argue that those things are ok, as part of policy? If teachers won't agree to that, there shouldn't be field trips in the first place.

Do we need another set of chaperones to chaperone the teachers?


Lynn said…
This has nothing to do with Carol Burton. Gundle received his ten day suspension in July of 2015.

How can he have been so stupid? How can the SEA have kept him on their board after he's provided such obvious evidence of his poor judgement?
Eric B said…
Most public agencies respond in a bigger way to things that hit the press and become big things. I think SPS' challenge in the last couple of years is that public opinion tends to be for the local person and not for downtown.

A clear and uniform set of consequences would be an awfully nice thing, although I would maybe temper the "failing to adequately supervise" one to a somewhat sliding scale depending on what the failure was. Leaving the students unsupervised for 5 minutes is way different from overnight. Forgive me if I don't hold my breath for such a document.
Anonymous said…
It's horrifying. He should NEVER have left the students for any reason. This is the kind of action that gives teachers a bad reputation and makes many of us vow never to go on field trips. This is too bad, because field trips can serve a valuable purpose. I wish Mr. Gundle had thought through his actions-something we try to teach our students every day. -Teacher Mom
Jet City mom said…
Doesnt the school have the principal or at least a vice principal confirming adequate chaperones, contact #'s, etc?

Or do they just rely on students affirmations that everything is in order?
Yeah, that's worked really well.
Liza Rankin said…
"I cannot believe how inconsistently SPS treats teachers." Sleeper, I agree.

On Burton's field trip a student with a known history of sexual misconduct was allowed on the trip, and an incident occurred that brought to light the error of allowing that student to participate without warning or notice to anyone of the danger the student posed, making the district need to explain/defend themselves. On Gundle's field trip, nothing bad happened, so no bad press, and no one taken to court. Burton violated a chaperone rule (that didn't affect or influence the student incident on her trip), owned up to it and apologized, and still had to fight for her job back over the course of a year. Leaving students unattended overnight is a huge lapse in judgement, and....10 day suspension? I don't pretend to know what an appropriate penalty would be for either teacher, but the differences between the two instances are pretty astonishing. Makes it look like SPS cares about PR above student safety.
Anonymous said…
Have they forgotten the Garfield rape that led to a federal investigation of the district. . . . .?

Chaperoning negligence and lax field trip planning --

I remember. . . . . .

Jet City mom said…
How could anyone forget, it was pretty big news.

From Decembet 2014- saveourschools blog..

"In 2013, the district revised its field trip procedures and chaperone training requirements. School administrators were trained on these revisions during the summer of 2013. The field trip procedures and chaperone training requirements are being further reviewed this fall (2014) to reflect lessons learned.

We are taking the following steps to ensure the safety of our students on overnight field trips. Here’s what parents and staff need to know:

· There must be at least two chaperones on each trip of more than 6 students including at least one chaperone for every 10 students.

· We will not allow parent/teacher chaperones to bring their own younger children on the trip.

· We require 24/7 supervision with bed checks in the middle of the night.

· We require chaperones to maintain proximity to the students.

· Parents and students are required to sign off on the guidelines; including the understanding that violation of the field trip behavior requirements may result in the student being sent home.

· Lead chaperones are required to provide training to each of the chaperones on the trip. · Emergency procedures for the chaperones to report student or chaperone violations up the chain to security, the principal or the superintendent/designee as appropriate.

It appears that some things have changed. For example, it's not even a matter of getting permission to bring any younger children on a trip, the district isn't allowing any chaperone to do it. This was an issue on the Garfield trip.

It is also my understanding that no chaperone has to stay up all night: there are measures that can be taken to ensure bed checks periodically throughout the night.

I also note the "maintain proximity to the students" which, again, was an issue on the Garfield trip.


Charlie Mas said…
The field trip isn't over until the kids get back to their families.
Anonymous said…
I recently participated as chaperone in a middle school field trip where there were no policies and procedures in place. Not only this, downtown JSCEE knew about it and blew it off. Eyeopening.

The Board should act before:

1) some student gets hurt on a field trip (not that it hasn't happened already but further damage)
2) the district gets hit with a huge lawsuit
Anonymous said…
I have a pretty good sense of what happened here. Noam Gundle, Social Equality Educator that he is, cared more about his fellow adults/comrades than the children in his care. He was more concerned about a protest than the supervision of the children he was responsible for.

And this is why the union has a bad name. They care more about the adults than the students. This is simply a more egregious example of that priority.

Finally, and I've been around hundreds of adults like Gundle, he cleary has poor boundaries with teens. He's treating them more like pals and friends than a supervisory adult. He should have never allowed the students to drive themselves, let alone stay on the field trip after he abandoned them for a protest.

This issue, once it gains more media exposure --- and it will, is going to be a problem for SEA/WEA. And it's going to be a problem for their allies and apologists --- I'm looking at you, Soup for Teachers --- unless those allies and apologists call out the teacher and the union for their misplaced priorities.

Srsly? said…
Get over yourself, Woody.

I don't see anyone making apologies. I only see concern for student safety.
Anonymous said…
Don't be myopic, Srsly. Why was Soup for Teachers created in the first place? --- to support teachers on the picket line. And while there does --- in this particular thread --- appear to be a concern mostly for student safety, there is little ire directed at the union. Lynn makes mention of it above, but most of the ire here seems to be directed at the district. Typical of this blog.

The responsibility for what happened here lies squarely with the teacher. And Melissa is forthright about that. The 10-day suspension is laughable, but behind that is the union.

Woody, I can easily say I support teachers but am not so crazy about the union. (Yes, I know - the union IS the teachers but for this kind of thing, I think of the individual teacher.)

Soup for Teachers is not the problem. Supporting teachers in their work as the educators of our children is not the problem.

The problem is two-fold. Teachers who, for whatever reason, don't understand or follow district policies on field trips. I don't get it and anyone who has had a teenager knows that you REALLY have to watch over teenagers on a trip.

The other issue is the union protecting that behavior. Certainly the union can argue for the teacher's past record, length of service to the district, etc.

But the problem are unions - whether teachers or police or any union - that just don't want to recognize AND act on members who clearly violate training or policies for the entity they work for.

I understand the union is a brother/sisterhood - I grew up in a union town. I believe in unions. But on this issue - safety - I have no patience.

Anonymous said…
Well, I think it's fairly obvious that both SEA & the District have some explaining to do here. Just because someone doesn't explicitly state that, doesn't necessarily mean they don't believe that.

Its a fair supposition that SEA had some influence in the ultimate discipline choice for Mr. Gundie - not a proven one, unless that's been publicly reported someplace - but also not a big leap of logic.

However, ultimately, Mr. Gundie screwed up. Mr. Gundie should have been fired because the actions here were pretty egregious frankly - if that were my kid left behind - aiyiyiyi!

I think its human nature to be in an uproar about the kid safety issues first and then get into some kind of more serious reactions to the adult behavior exhibited. I don't see that as apologist - just normal human reactivity. Time will tell what the ultimate outcome might be for all "interested parties", now that its public knowledge.

Anonymous said…
Gundle is a substantial asset to Ballard. They have tightened up field trip procedure as a result and that's good for all kids. It would serve no purpose to fire Gundle, he serves as a walking warning to staff to get it right.

As a Beaver parent, I feel Mr Wynkoop bears a bit more blame for allowing Gundle to scale back the trip, and for not laying down the law on field trips before this happened. Also the office staff has a responsibility to the students that includes, or should, keeping an eye on good but eccentric teachers like Mr Gundle.

I would also like to see Mr Gundle remove the dangerous potted plants looming over students' heads in his classroom.

The online news service reporting this incident from last year is so disgustingly right-wing, racist and anti-union(read their comments section, but prepare to vomit).
They are the source for the recent headline claiming the woman who received 200k for getting her eye socket broken from an officer's punch while she was handcuffed amounted to getting rewarded:

Kim Chee

And yet, Mr. Gundle - and all teachers - saw what happened on the Nature Bridge trip. On the New Orleans trip. And he still made the choice that he did. Does every high school need "a walking warning to staff" in order to get field trips right?

Jet City mom said…
Its easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.

As a community member & parent do I want the schools to be teaching students by their behavior that it is OK to do what you want as long as you act surprised there was a problem and promise to do better NEXT time?

Of course that may be the only thing the district consistently models.

Anonymous said…
Re: how this employee's treatment appears inconsistent. As someone who manages many professionals and has to deal with HR situations analogous to this one, I would like to add the following perspective. In most situations, HR investigations and corrective actions need to be kept as private as possible from an employee rights and employer's risk management perspective. Information that goes in any employee's personnel records should only be shared on a need to know basis. That doesn't mean that lessons learned should not be applied to a performance improvement process and broadcast through an organization. But it should be done with as much discretion as possible to the employee's privacy.

The down side of protecting the employee's privacy is that it inherently creates opacity in the process. So two employees might commit indiscretions that appear to be similar on some levels but result in distinctly different corrective actions. This can lead to poor morale stemming from a sense of perceived injustice or favoritism. Especially if the more severely punished employee promotes a version of his or her treatment that doesn't paint the whole picture. But I, as a manager, have to stay disciplined and keep my mouth shut (even, sometimes, when I know there are downright lies being spread) about all the distinct differences and histories between the two cases that make the resulting corrective actions make a lot more sense. And I don't work with a unionized workforce; I imagine management's obligations to remain silent on corrective action process may be magnified when dealing with organized labor.

So, when I see something like this, I tend extend a bit more grace than the average responder and figure that there is probably a lot more to the story than what which we are privvy to. I am not suggesting that we blindly have faith that everything is being managed perfectly behind closed doors. I am suggesting that we don't assume the opposite and that vote we conscientiously for school board members so we can have faith that they are providing appropriate oversight to ensure these actions are being done in a way that makes sense.
- SeaDad
Anonymous said…
I organized some high school field trips last year. The district policies are as clear as mud. Multiple versions of forms, multiple lists of required forms, several documents listing different required procedures at various places on the district website. Constantly changing policies, like fingerprints or no fingerprints for chaperones. Vehicle policy does not include rental cars. What about medications when students are separated from chaperones for competitions? Students flying in from different locations, coming late, leaving early without chaperones? Or students driving themselves? Is carpooling to airport from school any different than carpooling from hotel back to the airport? Students taking city transit home afterward without chaperones? Waking students up how many times during the night to answer hotel room door turn & on light to get visual on all room occupants?

-HS Parent

Bizarre said…
There is an individual on this thread that does not want a teacher fired, but wants his name posted to facebook and additional publications.?? Bizarre.
Charlie Mas said…
SeaDad, I might agree that there could be more going on than I know about... if I hadn't read the entire investigation reports of the cases.
Jet City mom said…
I know that adults may disparage "rate my teacher", but comments re:Gundle starting five years ago seem to Indicates that this was not unanticpated behavior for him.
Anonymous said…
When I heard "Gundle" on KIRO while driving around I thought "Nah, it couldn't be Noam". Very disappointing.

Personally I will not do any overnight field trips. Don't get me wrong - I can't believe the extreme carelessness of some aspects of the Burton and Gundle cases and so I'd probably be fine, but at some point upheld terminations for field trips will begin and my career isn't worth risking it.

Idea - what if all teachers who are going to plan/chaperone overnight field trips have to attend a PAID district training on field trips (2 hours should cover it, maybe a 3rd hour for organizers to provide extra rules/clarifications not needed by support chaperone teachers)? That would force real documentation and standards and then both the district and teachers would truly be on the hook (although overall everybody - SPS and teachers - would be equally on the hook after thorough trainings). I say "paid" training (overnight field trip teachers are already clearly volunteering many extra hours so it's not about the $) because that $ trail helps provide the ultimate proof that a teacher was present and is now on the hook for "best practice field trip standards".

SPS could produce some videos too on overnight field trip standards (teachers can log in to prove they watched them).

Not tripping
Not tripping, excellent ideas.
Anonymous said…
I will just say again, the recent experience of a middle school trip (overnight, several nights) made it clear that central office has no real commitment to holding schools accountable to any standards. Even when gaping discrepancies between policy and practices are brought to central office attention, it's just the pass the ball routine and in the end nothing changes. Nothing. It's quite shocking given what central office pontificated after the Garfield incidents.

Chaperone, I'd like to hear more about your experience if you care to write to me.
Ms206 said…
I do not know Noah Gundle, but I read the article about the situation and find his actions to be egregious in nature. He was an experienced teacher who knew about the requirements for field trips, but chose not to follow them -- and then lied (or appeared to lie) about his actions. And his reason for leaving the students was so that he could attend a rally? This is completely unacceptable! I understand that he's active in the union and wanted to go to the protest, but he made a commitment to chaperone this trip. He willingly left the students unattended on an overnight trip. And yet he keeps his job?

It is situations like this that make the general public wary about educator's unions, and rightfully so. But it's a shame because educator's unions do so much to facilitate quality education for students and safe and fair working conditions for educators. My union, the PFT, helps to ensure that the School District of Philadelphia abides by class size limits, ensures that teachers receive prep time (or are compensated if they lose prep time), work to make sure that every school has a counselor, protects teachers and other staff from bullying administrators, and many other activities.

It is the union's job to protect its members, but in egregious cases like this one, protecting one member comes at the expense of hurting the union's membership as a whole because defending this kind of neglectful behavior undermines the professional standards that the union membership should be upholding. If unionized educators want to maintain credibility, we have to set higher standards for ourselves and regulate each other -- or else people are going to continue to criticize our unions. Educators have to step up and say "enough is enough" -- this kind of behavior is unacceptable.

Anonymous said…
Ms206 has a point. I've recently wondered if police and teacher unions have a similar problem right now - we're so defensive against criticism of our peers that we have protected our peers to the detriment of the image of our profession because we've protected either bad apples and/or really stupid actions/decisions.

Although I think the Burton & Gundle cases were more just stupid decisions rather than really bad people/teachers (unlike some of the predator teachers who have previously been protected), termination from their jobs still would have been appropriate and helpful to the profession. Note that I'm not stating they should have their teacher's license revoked for these decisions (unlike the predators)... but as we often state it's good for student's to live up to the consequences for their actions so too we can as teachers. If really good (Burton sounds great overall) they'd land other jobs with lessons learned.

Bad cops and irresponsible actions by teachers, protected at all costs by their unions and peers, ultimately hurt the public image of both (in my opinion).

... and from what I've heard - there are a lot of social justice educators who are quick to call out the cops as racist who will defend Gundle and whom I actually heard defend Burton, meaning IMHO we are too quick to defend our own to the detriment of the credibility of our profession.

Ms206 said…
Thank you for mentioning the police unions. I was actually thinking about the police unions when I was writing my comment, but opted not to mention it (for reasons that I cannot recall).

I'm a strong believer in unions, but it's also important to be honest about the shortcomings of unions and to address these issues even if it is uncomfortable.
NT, MS206, I agree with you.

I am a union person but the unions - all unions -hurt themselves when they protect members who either need help in their job performance or should be exited. That the police union won't come out and say that is troubling.

I have always said the only thing between us and bad guys is the police force. Bless them for the terrible work they get up and do each and every day.

But having a badge, a gun and a rulebook should not be a license to be a bully. To treat people disrespectfully and, most of all, escalate situations. I don't get this 0 to 60 escalation of a situation as we have seen time after time and it's deeply troubling.

It would really help if unions would openly say that they are working to help members become better at their jobs because they care about the people they serve.
curlew said…
There are so many permutations when doing field trips. As teachers, we cannot control every single thing that happens. Having enough chaperones probably helps. But it is not that easy to find enough parents who want to go, in lower income schools and at the secondary level. There is now a pall over teachers in the district wanting to do them. Note: well known teacher leaders are not even willing to do them any more--especially overnight ones involving competitions-- due to the onerous paperwork and the threat of losing your job if something goes wrong. This is really too bad because they are such valuable experiences for students. In the last few years, I went on a day trip with a ratio of 15 adults to 100 students. Still a student had a phobia that no one knew about that was not listed on medical form. One chaperone had to leave the group to tend to individual and eventually, parent came to pick up student early. We could not have predicted this. Luckily there were enough extra chaperones so we could spare that person removing student and self from group. Another student went with them as well as I did not want to leave chaperone alone with student. I ask you all to lead a field trip and see what its like and how you would feel with the threat of losing your job if anything unexpected happens.
Anonymous said…
Curlew, I agree and I'm always impressed with the teachers who take on the additional stress and responsibility of taking students off campus. That being said, in both the Burton and Gundle cases, it was not unexpected-Burton ignored the rules and drank alcohol and allowed opposite sex students to visit each others rooms. You can argue that those are stupid rules, but she agreed to abide by them. Gundle, I can't for the life of me fathom what he was thinking. He knowingly left students on a field trip and returned to Seattle. Common sense 101 says that's a bad idea. -TeacherMom
Anonymous said…
curlew, I've conducted numerous field trips and, frankly, it's not that hard. And tell me, who in SPS has lost their job over what has happened on a field trip? Anyone? And don't say Carol Burton, because she still has her job. I'm tired of hearing all this hand-wringing about field trips and how challenging they are. Can we at least have a floor of expectations for teachers on field trips that includes NOT EFFING LEAVING THE STUDENTS BEHIND? If Gundle didn't lose his job over his egregious behavior, no one will. So, you can stop all the hand-wringing about field trips and start taking kids on them (if you think they're so valuable) and do so stress free.

Anonymous said…
I had to choke when I read that the field trip featured a student's 19 year old boyfriend. Seriously. With the Garfield "rape" allegations and gender visitation problems on field trips, do we really let 19 yo boyfriends be chaperones, or even travel on a field trip? ! That wasn't even mentioned as a problem, just the abandonment. Right. The only thing that might cost a staff member their job would be student death. That is the power of unions.


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