A district investigation into a Garfield High field trip raises the question of whether the district shares some of the blame for problems on the trip, in which two girls alleged they were groped by a classmate.
The Seattle school district may share some of the responsibility for what happened on a Garfield High School field trip during which two teenage girls were allegedly groped by a male classmate, according to a district investigation.
That investigation, released Monday, said the choir teacher in charge of the March trip to New Orleans made mistakes, but so did a school-district employee who failed to let the school know that the teenage boy had been expelled from a private school for a similar offense.
Students and parents have rallied to support the teacher, Carol Burton, who is on administrative leave and could be fired.
Students held a rally at the school earlier this month. Parents gathered Friday at district headquarters when Burton and her attorney talked with Superintendent Larry Nyland, who will make the final decision about her job.
Most Read Local Stories
- 'Unwanted subject': What led a Kirkland yogurt shop to call police on a black man | Danny Westneat
- When does the viaduct close? How much is the tunnel toll? Your guide to Seattle's Highway 99 project
- Gov. Jay Inslee's out-of-state trips strain budget of Washington State Patrol security detail VIEW
- 'I'm just standing up for people's rights': Police chief in tiny Republic says he won’t enforce new gun law
- Puget Sound orcas are in town, chasing chum and wowing ferry riders WATCH
Burton said Monday she would enforce the no-drinking rule for chaperones in the future, but stressed that she had just two and a half drinks in five days.
She told the investigator she didn’t feel comfortable stopping the mostly parent chaperones — who had each paid $1,800 to be on the trip — from drinking.
She also said she may have told students they could visit hotel rooms of classmates of the opposite sex during the day, which is also prohibited.
Burton has suggested that, instead of being fired, she receive a 10-day suspension without pay and sacrifice the stipend she earns for running the school’s choir groups. She also offered not to attend field trips for three years.
Beryl Miller, the Seattle Public Schools employee who failed to enter the boy’s history into a database that tracks discipline records, is being investigated separately.
The field-trip investigation concluded that no one at Garfield knew that history and, if they had, the student likely would not have been allowed on the trip.
The New Orleans trip is the third Garfield overnight excursion in the past few years in which problems have arisen. The district recently paid a $700,000 settlement to the family of a former student who alleged she was raped on a 2012 overnight trip. On another field trip this past fall that is still under investigation, male and female students allegedly shared the same sleeping areas.
The district tightened its field-trip rules after the rape allegation. Garfield staff, in particular, received training at the start of the school year on the new policies.
The investigation into the New Orleans trip concluded that not everyone at Garfield is getting the message that the district has a zero-tolerance policy for misconduct on field trips.
Tighter policies aren’t needed, the investigator said in the report. Instead, he said, Burton simply didn’t follow the rules.
“Ms. Burton was the one ultimately responsible for enforcing the rules,” the investigator wrote. “She failed to do so.”
The report said nearly all the adults on the trip — including Burton — violated the district’s no-alcohol policy by drinking during chaperone meetings, which, according to the report, were held nightly in the hotel bar.
But it also shows Burton quickly reported the alleged groping to Garfield Principal Ted Howard, and that the same student had inappropriately touched girls at the school earlier this year — not just on the trip — though Burton said she didn’t know about the earlier contact.
The investigation also found “pervasive” violations of the district’s no-visitation rule, which prohibits boys and girls from being in each others’ rooms at any time. Eight of the nine students interviewed said they visited hotel rooms of classmates of the opposite sex at some point during the trip.
Most students reported being under the impression that visitors of the opposite sex were permitted during the daytime, which Burton said was the rule before this school year.
The 17-year-old male student, whose name was redacted in the investigation report, had been barred from overnight field trips and ultimately expelled from a private school after inappropriately touching another male student on a different field trip in 2014, according to the report.
After the Garfield field trip, the report said, he was suspended from Garfield and does not plan to re-enroll this fall.
The alleged groping incident has been referred to police.
Burton said Monday she fears a chilling effect on students who might not report inappropriate touching to avoid getting teachers in trouble or jeopardizing future field trips. Both girls told the investigator that, for those reasons, they waited to tell Burton about the groping until they were at the airport on the trip home.