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Process without end for Morton’s convicted teacher

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on Jan. 2, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
December 30, 2010 5:23 pm

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

It is legendarily difficult for some districts to get rid of bad teachers. The legend is being burnished by the remarkable odyssey of Michael Moulton of the Morton School District.

Summary:

In 2008, Moulton is suspended for 12 days without pay for touching four female students on their backs or shoulders. The district had already reprimanded him in 2005.
The law gets involved. In 2009, Moulton is convicted of fourth- degree assault for the unwanted touching. He serves 16 days in jail that fall. District Superintendent Tom Manke places Moulton on paid administrative leave and eventually fires him. Moulton appeals firing.

March: Hearing officer reinstates Moulton on the grounds that he’d already been punished when suspended without pay. (The subsequent criminal conviction apparently meant nothing.)

Then: more months on the payroll. Legally, the district had no choice but to honor Moulton’s contract.

Bear with us here. The story is still unfolding.

Late last August: Moulton returns to the classroom. Students and parents boycott his class.

September: Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn – after an incredibly long, process-ridden investigation – suspends Moulton’s teaching certificate for three years. Dorn says that’s better than revoking the license outright: After revocation, a teacher can apply for a certificate again in one year.

October: Moulton appeals Dorn’s suspension.

November: the Washington State Admissions and Professional Conduct Advisory Committee – no, we’ve never heard of it before, either – declares that Dorn went overboard. It reduces the suspension to two years on grounds that similar cases and resulted in two-year suspensions. (That’s reassuring.)

Last week: Moulton appeals the shortened suspension to an administrative law judge. So … the saga of the convicted-but-not-fired teacher continues.

There are worse cases of districts getting due-processed to death by teachers they’re trying to get rid of.

In New York, for example, the district houses suspended teachers in “rubber rooms” where they do absolutely nothing – collecting their pay sometimes for years – while they try to wear down the system. The cost of firing a teacher, including wasted salary and legal expenses, can easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Don’t misunderstand us: Most teachers are competent and ethical, and understand boundaries. But a few simply don’t belong in the classroom. Washington’s laws and administrative policies shouldn’t be rigged to make it all but impossible to fire them – even after a criminal conviction involving students.

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