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SUPERINTENDENT UNDER FIRE

 

December 21, 2018

By Jacque Ritchie, TALON

Aztec Municipal School District Superintendent Kirk Carpenter is under fire by the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED). PED charges that Carpenter failed to report allegations of inappropriate sexual contact between AHS basketball coach, math and ethics teacher, James Coulter and a female AHS student in 2016. On September 18, 2018 PED filed a "Notice of Contemplative Action"(NCA) against Superintendent Carpenter in an effort to revoke "any and all licensure." Carpenter stands to lose his teaching, coaching and administrative licensure, possibly ending a career spanning nearly 30 years. Carpenter has served as Aztec Municipal School District Superintendent since 2009.

On December 12 and December 19, in an effort to appeal the NCA, a two-day formal hearing was held in Farmington. The boardroom was standing-room-only, including superintendents from across the state, in support of Carpenter.

State of New Mexico PED Administrative Prosecutor Phillip J. Gloudmans represented PED, Albuquerque labor lawyer Dina E. Holcomb Esq. represented Carpenter for the defense. Hearing Officer Murial McClellan presided. McClellan told TALON she was contracted by PED but was "impartial."

The 14 page NCA was compiled by PED Chief Investigator Jeremy Garcia and signed off on by PED Director of Educator Quality Christopher Eide. PED argues that Carpenter's failure to inform PED of a 2016 allegation, allowed Coulter to re-offend. During a mid-morning break at the December 19, session Eide told TALON, "My role is to decide on licensure...we do receive a lot of complaints involving adults having sexually inappropriate contact with students...it is our responsibility to make sure our students are secure, and that these teachers can't hop around from school to school."

Carpenter contends the 2016 allegation resulted in an in-district investigation. When interviewed both parties denied sexual contact, but admitted to violating "boundary issues." At that time, allegations of sexual contact could not be not substantiated. On January 25, 2016 Coulter received "disciplinary action," in the form of a "letter of redirect and a notice of reprimand." Carpenter testified, "We just can't take rumors...to establish reasonable suspicion you have to have a lot of proof." According to an Albuquerque Journal report (12/18/18 Perea, Shelby) a subsequent PED investigation revealed sexual contact had occurred in the 2015-16 case.

On Thursday April 26, 2018 the parent of a AHS student reported inappropriate text messages between Coulter and her child to the district. No sexual contact is alleged in this case. Carpenter viewed the text messages, then on Friday April 27, Deputy Superintendent Tania Prokop drafted a letter formally placing Coulter on paid administrative leave. On Tuesday May 4, Carpenter received Coulter's letter of resignation. "The important thing was we got him out of the classroom...He had clearly made ethical violations." At Wednesday's hearing Carpenter said, "In 2016 we had allegations, in 2018 we had evidence and we dealt with it expediently." Reportedly, it took eight days from the time Carpenter recieved the text messages to Carpenter's receipt of Coulter's resignation. PED was notified of the Coulter case and subsequent resignation on August 13, 2018 by-way-of a formal 20 page complaint drafted by Tania Prokop at the direction of Carpenter.

The PED investigation and NCA it generated, according to Holcomb are, "riddled with numerous errors," including Garcia's failure to record interviews with at least three key witnesses, misspelled names of the principles involved, incorrect dates and alleged "exaggerations and false statements." Under defense questioning, Eide, appeared to be unfamiliar with much of the evidence he had signed off on in the NCA and with established reporting guidelines. Eide testified "I would like to see all allegations of this nature reported to PED." Eide, was unable to identify where a specific written directive, regarding "reporting allegations" could be found or any training to educate superintendents about how and when to report "allegations."

Evidence presented alleges Coulter had inappropriate contact with at least four students from 2015 to 2017. On August 17, 2018 Coulter was arrested by NMSP and charged with four felony counts. Two counts of criminal sexual penetration have been dismissed. Coulter currently faces two second-degree felony counts of criminal sexual contact with a minor. According to Deputy District Attorney Dustin O'Brien, Coulter faces a possible 30 year prison sentence (TALON 12/14/18, Owens, Pilar). Coulter is scheduled for trial on January 9, 2019 in Aztec magistrate court.

Evidence presented at the hearing will be considered by Hearing Officer McClellan who will present her findings to the incoming Secretary of Education by February 25, 2019.

 

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