About 100 students walked out of class to support a choir leader, who was placed on leave after a field trip in which chaperones were drinking and a student allegedly groped classmates.
Students at Garfield High School say Seattle Public Schools should not fire their choir teacher over alleged student and chaperone misconduct on a school field trip.
About 100 students held a news conference outside the school Wednesday to express their support for Carol Burton, who has been on administrative leave since March 17. They carried signs, sang a song, and asked for their teacher back.
Choir members aren’t disputing what the district says happened on the group’s trip to New Orleans in March: The teacher and other adult chaperones allegedly drank alcohol, which is against district policy. They also don’t dispute allegations that a male student groped two female students on a bus and in a hotel room at night.
According to district officials, one chaperone became so intoxicated one night that he or she had to be helped back to the group’s hotel. They also said one chaperone allegedly engaged in some inappropriate contact with a student.
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But the students say Burton shouldn’t be punished for what happened.
Exactly how Burton was involved in what went wrong on the field trip is not clear.
The incident comes on the heels of a $700,000 settlement with a former Garfield student who said she was raped on a 2012 overnight trip, and after an investigation into another field trip late last year when males and females were allegedly allowed to share tents.
After the rape allegations, the district promised stricter chaperoning on overnight trips, requiring chaperones to make bed checks throughout the night. Garfield staff, in particular, received training at the start of the school year on the new field-trip policies, the district said in a prepared statement.
Beyond that statement, the district declined to say much about the case because it is a personnel matter. It remains unclear whether the teacher reported the alleged groping, or whether any action can or would be taken against the other adult chaperones.
The student who reportedly groped the girls no longer attends Garfield High, district spokeswoman Stacy Howard said.
Student safety, she said, is a top priority.
When adults deliberately violate the policies and procedures the district has set up to protect students, she said, they put their own needs above those of the students.
Superintendent Larry Nyland will decide whether to discipline Burton, and hasn’t ruled out firing her.
Kevin Peck, an attorney representing Burton, said Wednesday there’s no indication that Burton intentionally tried to violate any rule.
“The students love her. The parents love her,” he said. “And they all want her brought back to teach the choral program. … We are attempting to work with the school district to try and resolve the matter.”
Peck said the allegations, if true, could warrant some discipline — but not termination.