Morton teacher's suspension reduced

MORTON - Embattled Morton Junior/Senior High School teacher Michael Moulton will remain suspended from the classroom for two years, rather than three.

The Morton School District fired Moulton after he served 16 days of a 20-day sentence in the Lewis County Jail in 2009; he had entered an Alford plea on charges he assaulted four female students by inappropriately touching them. Under an Alford plea, a defendant doesn’t admit guilt but acknowledges enough evidence for a conviction exists.

In March, a hearing officer’s decision had reinstated Moulton to his teaching position.

Moulton’s teaching license was suspended for three years – the maximum allowed by state law – by Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn in a decision announced Sept. 1.

The Washington State Admissions and Professional Conduct Advisory Committee reduced Moulton’s suspension to two years in a Nov. 9 hearing in Olympia, according to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. OSPI released the results of the hearing to The Chronicle on Friday and provided a letter from review officer Gene Sharratt explaining the committee’s decision, in which Sharratt said the committee had reviewed cases with similar findings of fact to Moulton’s, which themselves resulted in two-year suspensions.

The suspension isn’t the only punishment the committee enacted; Moulton must follow what Sharratt termed as “strict” reinstatement that will be reviewed by the OSPI Office of Professional Practices.

To be reinstated, Moulton would need to enroll in training courses on interactions between educators and students; keep his hands off students unless breaking up a fight or rendering first aid, and submit a new application, including a background check with fingerprinting by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Washington State Patrol.

Mineral resident Pat Ettenhofer, whose daughter Alicia was named in one of the first complaints against Moulton in the Morton School District, said he is pleased that Moulton is out of the classroom but doesn’t understand how the state could have reduced his suspension.

“I’m angry and frustrated at them reducing his suspension, and I don’t care if they say they are following a set precedent,” Ettenhofer said. “How could the state say they’re all about the children when they allow such a long legal process for someone who has assaulted kids in the classroom?”

Moulton’s suspension took immediate effect after the board rendered its decision and is valid unless he appeals, at which point the suspension would be placed on hold pending a decision from an administrative law judge in 2011. At that point, it would be up to the Morton School District whether to allow him back into the classroom or put him back on administrative leave. Morton Superintendent Tom Manke had placed Moulton on paid administrative leave during Moulton’s appeal of the suspension Dorn handed down in September.

OSPI officials did not know as of Tuesday whether Moulton has appealed.