SEATTLE – Parents pulled their children out of class and protested outside a Washington state school Monday, the day a teacher convicted of inappropriately touching female students was scheduled to return to work.
Teacher Michael Moulton called in sick Monday, the first day of school, after parents in his tiny school district transferred most of their children out of his five classes.
The state opened a file on Moulton in January 2009 after the superintendent of the 285-student Morton School District contacted the professional practices department in the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, said Catherine Slagle, director of professional practices.
Moulton served 16 days in the Lewis County Jail after pleading guilty through an Alford plea on charges of inappropriately touching four girls in 2008. In an Alford plea, a defendant pleads guilty but does not admit guilt
The school district had previously suspended Moulton without pay for 12 days for the 2008 incidents.
When the district tried to fire him for the same offenses, Moulton appealed that decision and the hearing officer who heard his appeal ruled the school district had already punished him.
Now that the district and the courts are done with their investigation of Moulton, the state review of his teaching certificate has begun but he's legally allowed to teach until that has finished, Slagle said. Superintendent Tom Manke was not sure if Moulton would be returning to school on Tuesday, or if he would be out sick for an extended period.
If the state suspends or revokes Moulton's license to teach, he may then go through an appeal process that could extend the situation for months. This is the process the state follows for dozens of teachers a year, Slagle said.
Moulton was accused of inappropriately touching girls on the back or shoulder. According to court documents, he said the unwelcome contacts were pats meant as encouragement for good work.
Attempts to reach Moulton by phone Monday were unsuccessful because his phone had been disconnected.
Manke said Monday that he would be conferring with the district's attorney and the school board to determine what happens next with Moulton, 56, who teaches history and a study skills class for students in grades 6-8.
The students who have been pulled out of Moulton's classes will be taught through an online program, the superintendent said.
"At the request of parents who said, 'Hey, I don't want my student in Mr. Moulton's class,' we had to discuss alternatives," Manke said.
The district was still determining Monday how many students were left in Moulton's classroom.
Jennifer Mau, who led a protest Monday morning outside the school and then in front of Moulton's home, said Morton parents are angry and were actively spreading the word outside their community of 1,350 residents.
"I want everybody in this nation to know this creep is teaching our kids," Mau said. "If we can get him out of this school, don't allow him in your school."
Moulton has a contract with the district, which they plan to honor for now, Manke said.
If Moulton ends up with no students, "That's a question we're going to have to discuss with the district attorney and school board," Manke said.
AP Reporter Doug Esser contributed to this report.