When school starts Monday for students at Morton Junior/Senior High School, a familiar teacher will return to his position at the front of the class.
But don’t expect a warm reception for Michael Moulton from parents across the town who want their children to have no part of his class. The instructor pleaded guilty by Alford plea late last year on charges of inappropriately touching four female students in 2008, after which Moulton served 20 days in the Lewis County Jail and was placed on paid administrative leave for the remainder of the 2009-10 school year – and ultimately terminated by the district. In an Alford plea, the defendant does not admit guilt but concedes he or she likely would be convicted if the case went to trial.
Moulton, 56, won an appeal of his firing after an open hearing was granted between the Morton School District and him in March. In documents from a December ruling from Lewis County Superior Court granting the hearing, Moulton wrote that he was “very close to resigning,” and upon talking with his father, a longtime educator, Moulton realized that if he did resign, he “may never teach again.”
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One girl told Morton Police officers that she was put in detention for telling Moulton to “get his (expletive) hands off of me,” according to court documents. Another victim alleged most girls in Moulton’s class would wear jackets in school so he wouldn’t stare at their chests.
During interviews, Moulton has told officers the touching was “more along the lines of ‘good job’ or other encouragement with a pat or touch” rather than inappropriate behavior, according to the documents. He also said he believes the students were trying to get him in trouble with the law.
More than a dozen other students have filed complaint statements against Moulton dating to 1997, all from the Morton School District, where he has taught for 18 years.
Former district Superintendent John Flaherty acknowledged in a 2005 letter that Moulton had made inappropriate contact with 10 students.
“This letter will serve as a reprimand for poor professional judgment,” Flaherty wrote to Moulton in November 2005. “I sincerely hope that no incidents of this nature happen again.”
Former Superintendent Richard Lutz also reprimanded Moulton with a letter in May 1997. Lutz alleged that there was merit to students’ complaints that Moulton asked them to rub his back on multiple occasions.
Moulton’s reinstatement has the district’s hands tied, Morton superintendent Tom Manke said. Manke fired Moulton last year and said he understands parental frustrations, some of which he says are unjustly directed at the school.
“It’s a very frustrating situation for me, after having terminated him, that he’s back in the classroom instructing students again,” Manke said. “He didn’t represent the code of ethics we would hope that a teacher at Morton would adhere to, in order to set a role model for students.”
Many parents in the district agree with Manke’s frustration, and some withdrew their children from Moulton’s history class. Jennifer Mau, the parent of a Morton Junior/Senior High student, said she removed her daughter from the class.
“I don’t comprehend how someone can be charged and convicted, then come right back to work in the same environment that led to that conviction,” Mau said. “I don’t want my daughter under the same roof as that man.”
Mau is a member of a Facebook group called Morton Schools Justice, a group of 64 members Mau says are parents of Morton schoolchildren or alumni whose sole aim is to give Moulton the boot. While she said Moulton hasn’t made any inappropriate contact with her daughter, she isn’t taking any chances, even going so far as to enroll her in karate classes.
“Basically I told her if he comes near her to kick him hard. I know the district can’t do anything about it, which makes me even more angry about the situation,” Mau said.
The Morton School District, which serves 285 students in a rural Lewis County town of about 1,000 residents, has offered an online course in history as an alternative to Moulton’s class. Manke says the cash-strapped district has no money to hire another teacher in Moulton’s stead, as that was already done last year as the convicted teacher still was being paid by the district.
Manke said he didn’t know an exact number of parents who had pulled their children out of school because of the Moulton incident, but he did say “numerous” parents have signed their children up for the online course.
The situation has attracted the attention of the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, to the point that an investigation has been opened into Moulton’s teaching credentials, OSPI spokesman Nathan Olson said.
Morton parent Dave Eden, the president of the nonprofit motorcycle club Guardians of the Children, said he has never seen anyone get off so lightly from such alleged crimes.
“I want to know why he wants to come back and teach at a district where everyone for all intents and purposes doesn’t want him here,” Eden said.
For now, that question goes unanswered, as Moulton’s home phone number has been disconnected and he wasn’t at Morton Junior/Senior High School on Tuesday afternoon.