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Judge reinstates Seattle high school choir teacher fired for drinking on field trip

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SEATTLE -- A King County judge on Tuesday ordered Seattle Public Schools to reinstate a Garfield High School choir teacher who was fired for drinking on a field trip to New Orleans during which two teenage girls allegedly were groped by a male classmate.

Carol Burton's lawyer said Burton, who has taught at Garfield for 14 years, plans to be back at school Wednesday morning.

Last August, Seattle Public Schools  said then-Superintendent Larry Nyland "found that numerous district policies, protocols and field trip guidelines were violated" during the field trip in March 2015.

"Such violations included the consumption of alcohol by staff, allowing chaperones to consume alcohol, allowing boys and girls inside each other’s hotel rooms, ignoring curfew, and no random room checks conducted after curfew," the district said in a news release.

"During this field trip a male student is alleged to have groped two female students at night in a New Orleans hotel room and on a bus, students observed their teacher and chaperones drinking alcohol, a teacher and chaperones drank alcohol at night on other occasions, a chaperone was visibly incapacitated and had to be helped back to their hotel room one night, and a chaperone was alleged to have engaged in inappropriate contact with a student while under the influence of alcohol," the release said.

But Burton said she only had two drinks during the five-day trip and the district wasn't clear on hotel room visits.

The King County judge on Tuesday agreed, saying Burton's teaching performance was not impaired and her conduct is rectifiable.

After the judge's ruling, the school district said, "We are disappointed that the district's decision was not upheld. Seattle Public Schools determined she violated policy ... and the district believed it was important to send a clear message that student safety is a top priority."

The choir teacher, Carol Burton, who has been at Garfield for 14  years, told the Seattle Times that she heard the news from her attorney, who reportedly was told by a school district lawyer that Burton would receive a termination letter Friday.

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