Washington state's schools chief on Wednesday suspended the teaching certificate of a teacher convicted of inappropriately touching girls and then brought back into the classroom after a short suspension.

The state investigation of Morton teacher Michael Moulton is complete, and the evidence clearly shows that he has violated Washington's code of professional conduct, state schools Superintendent Randy Dorn said in a statement.

Moulton hasn't been in school since classes started for the year on Monday. Parents have demonstrated outside of school and were planning a protest outside Dorn's office in Olympia on Thursday because they wanted the history teacher out of the classroom permanently.

"Because of the intense public interest in this matter, I wanted to make my decision known as soon as possible," Dorn said.

Moulton, 56, was convicted of inappropriately touching four girls in 2008 and served 16 days in the Lewis County Jail.

State law gives Moulton 30 days to appeal Dorn's order. If he chooses not to appeal, the order will become final and the three-year suspension will begin then. If he appeals, the state appeals process could take several more months.

Dorn said he chose to suspend Moulton's license instead of revoking it because a suspension guarantees a teacher will be out of the classroom for at least three years. A teacher whose certificate has been revoked can apply for a new certificate after one year.

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.

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.

Morton Superintendent Tom Manke said Wednesday he would not make a statement until a final order is issued on Moulton's suspension.

Rhiannon Foister, a mother who participated in the protests against Moulton, said she was grateful the action was being taken.

Foister said she was glad the parents in this tiny school district banded together to fight for their children.

"I want all of my children to know when something is not right you need to stand up for yourself," said Foister, who has two children in the middle school. "I don't want my children to be intimidated by anything or anyone."

After moving away from her hometown of Morton years earlier, Rhiannon said she moved back in 2002.

"I moved back to Morton for my children to grow up in a small town, because these are the things you hope don't happen," she said.