MORTON — The first day of school in Morton brought a circus-like atmosphere to town Monday morning with roughly 20 parents — and six members of the Gargoyles motorcycle group from Tacoma — protesting the reinstatement of a teacher who was a no-show to his own class.
Superintendent Tom Manke said middle school history teacher Michael Moulton used a sick day and stayed home — away from the display along Westlake Avenue as parents protested Moulton’s reinstatement with signs reading “Quit Touching Our Kids,” “If You Don’t Protect the Children, We Will” and “Touch Yourself, Not Children.”
The parents and bikers both protested in front of the school beginning at 8 a.m., and upon hearing Moulton was not present, they took the fight to his neighborhood.
“We don’t want this to be violent, but we do want neighbors to know that someone lives near them that has very clearly engaged in bad behavior with children,” said Gargoyles member Tracy “Bam” Guise of Tacoma. “More and more people are getting upset and we’re letting people know about it.”
Moulton entered an Alford plea in late 2009 in Lewis County Superior Court to four counts of fourth-degree assault against female students. The students alleged that in 2008, they had been touched inappropriately by Moulton — and a criminal investigation was opened by the Morton Police Department. Under Washington state law, inappropriate contact can be a form of assault.
Under the Alford plea, Moulton didn’t admit guilt, but instead conceded that the court would likely find him guilty if the case went to trial. He would serve 16 of 20 days and be released, then terminated by Manke himself. Moulton appealed and won a decision in a private hearing in March, and Monday was his scheduled first day back at school.
He opted not to show up, calling in sick — a move that some parents called cowardly.
“If he’s going to stay home like this, I hope he stays home sick for the other 179 days of the school year,” said parent Jennifer Mau, whose daughter Abby was one of two students escorted by the Gargoyles. “He’s where he needs to be today, and that’s away from these kids.”
The other student the Gargoyles escorted, seventh-grader Renee Fisher, said she had not been a victim of inappropriate contact in Moulton’s classes, but rather is friends with two girls who had. Fisher, who came to school wearing a homemade name tag that read “Can’t Touch This!” in bold letters, said those close friends now attend class in a different school district.
“What he’s done to my friends has affected my friendships,” Fisher said. “I don’t get to see my good friends nearly as much as I used to, and I think it’s wrong that they’re gone while he gets to stay around and teach.”
Pat and Shannon Ettenhofer of Mineral, who joined the protest outside Moulton’s home on Kosmos Lane, had filed a complaint against Moulton with the school district back in 2005 on behalf of their daughter Alicia, now a senior at Morton Junior/Senior High School. The couple said they joined the protest to rally with other parents whose children face a “dangerous situation” in Moulton’s class, similar to their daughter five years ago.
“We don’t have any anger with the school district, but we’re disappointed at how they handled our case then and we’re disappointed in them now,” Pat Ettenhofer, 50, said in reference to a run-in his daughter had with Moulton. “The district hasn’t made a concrete stand against Moulton’s antics and it’s disgusting.”
The Ettenhofers, other parents and six members of the Gargoyles motorcycle club, whose stated mission is to advocate for the protection of children, descended on the neighborhood surrounding Moulton’s home to pass out flyers notifying parents of a “neighbor who’s going around touching kids,” according to Guise.
Flanked by television camera crews, the bikers knocked on the Moultons’ door while a Morton police officer kept watch. The door didn’t open, but a female from the house greeted the group with expletives and told them to leave the property. Guise left a flyer at their door, after which the Moultons’ son Stevie poked his head out a side window and had his own encounter with the group.
“What do you want from us?” Stevie Moulton yelled.
Guise shouted back, “We want you to stop touching kids,” to which Moulton yelled back, “We’re trying.”
Moulton could still be fired, but it wouldn’t be the result of action taken by the Morton School District. Manke said the district chose not to appeal the ruling by hearing officer Joseph Mano in March because he felt the district had “made as strong a case for (Moulton’s) firing as we possibly could.”
Instead, the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Education’s Office of Professional Practices has opened an investigation into Moulton’s conduct. Having reprimanded Moulton in 2005 for two prior incidents, the state education agency could decide to suspend or revoke Michael Moulton’s license when the investigation is complete, a process that could take months.
Monday morning, students took part in an orientation on how to use the Apex Learning online course, which will be used as an alternative for the history class. The computer-based, Internet-powered system enables students to learn by reading all applicable material online, then taking quizzes and tests all using a standard Web browser.
“It is weird that I have to teach myself history this year,” Renee Fisher said. “I’ve been so used to having a teacher help me with everything I need help with, and it’s going to be different.”
Despite the workaround, Manke said he expects the school year to go on “as normally as possible” while also saying he understood parents’ and his students’ concerns.
“I really do sympathize with everyone in all this,” Manke said. “It’s a tough situation for everyone.”
Christopher Brewer: (360) 807-8235
Parents Plan to Protest in Olympia
By The Chronicle
A group of Morton parents plan to hold a second protest, but this time they’re taking it to the office of the state’s top educational administrator.
Jennifer Mau, whose daughter Abby attends Morton Junior/Senior High School, sent out a press release late Monday evening detailing plans to organize a group of parents and protest in front of the main offices of Randy Dorn, the superintendent of public instruction, Thursday at 10 a.m. Mau said the parents plan to make their voices heard for two hours.
Moulton Out Sick for Second Straight Day
By The Chronicle
Michael Moulton again called in sick to his job at Morton Junior/Senior High School today, according to KIRO radio.
Moulton had called in sick Monday amid protests that parents held outside the school and eventually his home.
Superintendent Tom Manke told KIRO radio that the district can take action if Moulton requests enough sick days, by asking to see a doctor’s note.
Manke did not return The Chronicle’s repeated calls for comment by press time.
So far, 23 parents have pulled their students from Moulton’s history class, opting instead for self-instruction using the Web-based Apex Learning system.