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Officials investigate reports of groping, drinking on Garfield High School student trip to New Orleans

Seattle Public Schools officials are dealing with the fallout from allegations of improper conduct on another Garfield High School student trip. One teacher at the school has been placed on paid leave as the district investigates the allegations, according to a statement from SPD sent Wednesday morning.

The district announcement said “Seattle School Board policies, procedures, and protocols were violated” on a Garfield student field trip to New Orleans in March:

During this field trip a male student is alleged to have groped two female students at night in a New Orleans hotel room and on a bus, students observed their teacher and chaperones drinking alcohol, a teacher and chaperones drank alcohol at night on other occasions, a chaperone was visibly incapacitated and had to be helped back to their hotel room one night, and a chaperone was alleged to have engaged in inappropriate contact with a student while under the influence of alcohol.

A group of Garfield students announced they are staging a walkout to protest what they say is a termination recommendation for a music teacher at the school. “The District is sacrificing the well being and education of its students, and attempting to rob Garfield of yet another teacher in one year,” a statement from the students on the walkout reads.

Earlier this school year, SPS backed down from a plan to cut a Garfield teacher as part of an annual budgeting process after protest from students and staff at the 23rd Ave school that serves thousands of students in the neighborhoods around the Central District and Capitol Hill.

Meanwhile, the school has been embroiled in a series of controversies related to student trips. The most serious case involved the investigation of a sexual assault during a school trip on the Olympic Peninsula in 2012.

UPDATE 6/15/15: The Friends of the Garfield Singers parent booster group has released a statement on the situation and letters of support for teacher Carol Burton. Here’s a portion of the statement:

The District issued a press release on Tuesday, June 10th, containing summary allegations about the events surrounding the suspension and potential termination of Ms. Burton, but provided few specific facts. The District’s statements caused many inaccurate news reports, based on speculation rather than facts. With information known to parents and students involved with the choir program and the New Orleans field trip, we want to provide some important background and key facts that the District has neglected to disclose to the public.

“This student group traveled to New York and performed at Carnegie Hall last year, and has had one or more overnight trips for many years,” the statement reads. “There has never been a reported incident of sexual misconduct in the 14 years of Ms. Burton’s program, managing thousands of students, until the report on the last day of this year’s field trip.”

The group’s statement refutes many of the allegations made by the district and provides additional details that the group said the district left out of its account of the activities. The parent group also says that the allegations of inappropriate sexual activity by a chaperone were leveled by the same student who had been accused on inappropriate sexual activity in a separate incident. The group writes “we are confident the District’s investigation will find no credibility to the allegation, and are shocked that the District published it.”

The full document is here (PDF).


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9 thoughts on “Officials investigate reports of groping, drinking on Garfield High School student trip to New Orleans” -- All CHS Comments are held for moderation before publishing

  1. So what is it with the adults? You would think it would be pretty easy to stay on the up and up and run these activities with some integrity.

  2. Just now, shouldn’t we be asking questions that apply to all schools? 1. How will students who bravely reported be spared retaliation and will be supported? 2. How will sexual assaults be downgraded to less charged terms such as “groping”? (See definitions of sexual assault from RAINN, among other sites.) 3. Will the Title IX definition of “unwelcome touching” be a part of any investigation, as it must?

    now the non-profit Stop Sexual Assault in soon to go live. We freely help victims across the country with a special history in Seattle.

  3. While the charges are serious, one has to wonder about the timing, given the failure of the School Board to get the FTE reduction they planned for Garfield recently. Based on this information at least, it doesn’t appear the teacher themselves did anything wrong (aside from the drinking charge I suppose, but WTF she’s over 21 AND in NOLA, what do people expect?), but she’s taking the heat because of the actions of who I presume were adult parent chaperones.

    • I am not sure who should take the heat. I do know when as an adult I chaperoned students, the chaperoning was my job, and I did not pretend that I was on vacation. Teachers and chaperones are not there to vacation and party. Students are not on vacation in these circumstances. Students should understand that such trips are a privilege, and there should be ways to escort them home if they are not willing to obey the rules. The students deserve at least that much structure.

      • Having a couple of cocktails in the evening after a long day of herding teenagers doesn’t exactly strike me as “partying”, although, granted, it appears at least one adult overindulged, according to reports. And there are definitely more serious charges that need to be addressed, but again, I challenge the idea that only the teacher should be held accountable and disciplined. I presume the chaperones were adult parents of some of the students; what sort of discipline will they receive? I’m pretty sure it won’t amount to being fired from their jobs, unless actual criminal activity is shown to have occurred, so why should the teacher have to suffer greater punishment for what appears at this point at least to have been a far less serious transgression?

  4. One question nobody’s asking is how to deal with the young man who assaulted two girls. I personally knew him, and I know he was expelled from his old school for an incident of the same nature. Seattle Schools has done nothing except move him, endangering others and providing him no support or help. While he was not an evil person, his actions weren’t okay at all, but SPS is sweeping that under the rug and setting a bad example on how to deal with sexual assault.

    • Thanks for the insight. As I feared, a shitty set of parents raised a shitty kid and now a loved teacher is getting fired.

      Teachers cannot be everywhere on theses sorts of trips. They simply can’t. Lord knows the kinds of things I got away with ‘back in the day.’ If you introduce a kid with a record into this environment you are going to get trouble.

      In this case it sounds like SPS found a scapegoat, and the ones who suffer are the good students looking to learn.