Carol Burton, the choir teacher at Seattle’s Garfield High who was fired for violating field-trip rules, will get her job back.
After a nine-month ordeal during which she lost her job as Garfield High’s choir teacher, students protested her termination and she fought her dismissal in court, Carol Burton plans to be back at Garfield at 7 a.m. Monday.
Burton, fired in August because she violated the district’s field-trip rules, learned Tuesday that a King County judge has ordered Seattle Public Schools to reinstate her.
Burton, 51, has admitted she made mistakes on the New Orleans excursion in March 2015 but didn’t think they should cost her her job. On Tuesday evening, she said she had thought her chances of reinstatement were thin.
Superintendent Larry Nyland fired Burton after a district investigation showed she and other chaperones drank alcohol and failed to keep male and female students out of each other’s hotel rooms. Burton admitted she consumed 2½ alcoholic drinks during the five-day trip, and she questioned the district’s policy on hotel-room visits.
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But Burton and her lawyer have said she was a scapegoat for the district’s own lapses. “The district is at fault here, too,” she said Tuesday.
A male student, who had been expelled from a private Seattle school for inappropriate touching on one of that school’s field trips, allegedly groped two female students during the New Orleans excursion, including on a bus and in their hotel room. District officials knew about the past incident but didn’t tell Garfield administrators or Burton.
Retired Judge George Finkle, who presided over Burton’s termination hearing, wrote that her misconduct was significant, but given her contributions to the Garfield community, her mistakes shouldn’t have resulted in her termination. If he had the option to reduce her punishment, he said he would have imposed a one-year suspension.
The district said it is reviewing the findings to determine what its next steps will be. “We are disappointed that the district’s decision was not upheld,” officials said in a statement. “Ms. Burton was terminated because Seattle Public Schools determined she violated policy, and the district believed it was important to send a clear message that student safety is a top priority.”
Burton said she wants to get back to her students, who have gone through the year with substitute teachers, as soon as possible. She plans to acknowledge her mistakes and answer any questions they may have. And, she added, there’s a spring musical “coming right around the corner.”
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.”