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Seattle Schools Investigating Drinking, Groping During Garfield High Field Trip

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A Garfield High School student might have groped two classmates while on a school choir trip to New Orleans in March, a Seattle Public Schools investigation has found.

The district also says the school's choir teacher and chaperones were drinking during the trip, and that one chaperone had "inappropriate contact with the student while under the influence of alcohol," according to a district statement.

Seattle Public Schools hired a former U.S. Attorney to investigate the case, who found multiple breaches of field trip policy and protocol, according to a district statement.

Among the alleged breaches of field trip policy: students are not allowed to be in hotel rooms for classmates of the opposite gender while on field trips. The student who allegedly groped two female students was assigned to a male room.

Seattle Public Schools officials also say volunteer chaperones sign off on field trip guidelines prohibiting them from consuming alcohol. The state's code of professional conduct for teachers says they're not supposed to drink during school-sponsored activities involving students.

The district has placed the choir teacher on administrative leave and superintendent Larry Nyland is exploring whether to fire her.

But district officials did not specify exactly which allegations had caused them to put the teacher on leave — for breaching field trip policies, for the alleged drinking, for something related to the sexual assault or for some other reason.

The allegations come just months after Seattle Public Schools reached a $700,000 settlement agreement with the family of another Garfield High School student who said she was the victim of a sexual assault during a 2012 overnight trip.

In that case, the student's parents had said the district did not fulfill its legal obligations to investigate the assault claims. But parents also raised concerns about lax chaperone policies, prompting the district to re-evaluate its field trip procedures and tighten its guidelines for handling sexual assault claims.

More than 100 Garfield High School students held a walkout and press conference Wednesday afternoon to express support for the choir teacher, calling it unfair to hold her responsible for the groping incident.

At 8:30 p.m., this post was updated with more information.

Kyle Stokes covers the issues facing kids and the policies impacting Washington's schools for KPLU.
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