This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.
What a mess in Morton, where school’s back in session this week and the community is already in an uproar over a problem teacher.
At the center of the controversy is middle school history teacher Michael Moulton, who has been repeatedly accused – and now convicted – of inappropriately touching students.
Moulton entered an Alford plea (admitting the strength of the prosecution’s case but not his guilt) last fall and served a 16-day jail sentence for fourth-degree assault.
The Morton School District tried to fire him. But its decision was reversed earlier this year by a hearing examiner who ruled that Moulton’s dismissal violated his protections against double jeopardy.
The school district had goofed when it previously suspended Moulton without pay for 12 days. Had the district continued paying Moulton while he was on leave, the suspension wouldn’t have counted as punishment and school officials would have been free to later fire him.
Better yet, the district could have skipped the suspension altogether and let Moulton go in the first place.
Now he’s back on the job – or at least due to be. He called in sick Monday and again on Tuesday rather than face an angry group of protesters at the school. Many parents have yanked their children from his classes. The district is teaching those students using a Web-based curriculum.
When Moulton didn’t show on Monday, the protesters – including members of a Tacoma motorcycle group – descended on Moulton’s neighborhood to pass out flyers notifying people of a “neighbor who’s going around touching kids,” the Centralia Chronicle reported.
Moulton’s family was inside their house at the time; his son reportedly poked his head out a side window and yelled, “What do you want from us?”
The situation obviously has gone too far when the community feels it has to take matters into its own hands. The whole debacle could have been avoided had the authorities charged with protecting students taken more decisive action.
Two organizations have the power to prevent a teacher from returning to the classroom: the district that employs him and the state’s office in charge of disciplining teacher misconduct.
The Superintendent of Public Instruction’s Office of Professional Standards, which can suspend or revoke a teacher’s certificate, began reviewing Moulton’s case at the district’s request more than a year and half ago.
It later put its investigation on hold in deference to the criminal prosecution, which ended last fall with Moulton’s plea. The state reopened its review just six to seven weeks ago, state schools chief Randy Dorn told reporters on Tuesday. A decision is now a week or two away.
The delay, for whatever reason, hasn’t done the Morton School District any favors.
But the district still has the ability to put Moulton on administrative leave with pay, an option that’s probably more financially feasible now that the state’s decision is just around the bend.
Morton parents have every reason to question whose interests are being served in this case. When a teacher who has done jail time for his treatment of students is sent back to the classroom, the system designed to protect students has failed.