State education officials are seeking to revoke the license of Aztec Municipal Schools superintendent Kirk Carpenter over how he’s said to have handled a sexual misconduct allegation involving a high school student and a teacher.
The New Mexico Public Education Department is alleging that Carpenter never contacted police officials to investigate allegations that a now-former Aztec High math teacher, James Dee Coulter, had an inappropriate relationship with a then-17-year old student in 2014.
Coulter, 31, was arrested in August 2018 and charged with two counts of criminal sexual penetration. According to New Mexico State Police, Coulter admitted to having sex with an Aztec High School student on two different occasions in late 2014.
It’s how New Mexico State Police came to learn of the allegations against Coulter that has Aztec Schools Superintendent Kirk Carpenter facing a challenge from the state PED.
Carpenter admitted to PED investigators that police weren’t called to investigate accusations that Coulter was having a sexual relationship with a student. Those accusations were brought to the district as early as January 2016.
PED is arguing that Carpenter’s misstep should cost him his license.
The nine-year district superintendent didn’t respond to KRQE News 13’s request for comment Wednesday afternoon.
Many recognize Carpenter in New Mexico as the superintendent that led Aztec Municipal Schools through the days and weeks following the December 2017 Aztec High School shooting.
At a news conference following the shooting, Carpenter said, “at schools, our primary rule, obviously and primary job is to educate students and keep them safe.”
Coulter taught both ethics and mathematics at Aztec High School through mid-2018. He was put on leave before the end of the school year.
According to its investigation, PED was initially contacted in May 2018 when Aztec Municipal Schools filed a complaint against Coulter, accusing the teacher of falsifying a student’s grades.
When a PED investigator started looking into the case, they found numerous other incidents including allegations that Coulter was accused of possible sexual misconduct with a student in 2016.
Through the investigation, PED questioned Superintendent Carpenter. Carpenter admitted to PED that “he did not contact law enforcement” about the accusation against Coulter, explaining that “the district’s investigation did not reveal anything illegal.”
According to PED’s investigation, Carpenter disciplined Coulter, but let the teacher keep his job working with high school teens up until mid-2018 when allegations of grade falsification came up.
The PED’s investigation also revealed that the parent of another Aztec High School student came forward to the district, revealing hundreds of messages between an underage student and Coulter.
Those messages indicated a possible romantic relation, with Coulter at one exchange even suggesting getting a hotel room for him and the student to do English coursework.
Coulter resigned from the district shortly after the messages were brought forward.
The former teacher’s case is currently slated to go to trial in early 2019.
The Public Education Department was supposed to hold a hearing about Superintendent Carpenter’s license revocation on Wednesday morning.
KRQE News 13 reached out to both Carpenter and the PED about the outcome of the hearing but didn’t hear back from either side on Wednesday.
In all, Coulter admitted to PED investigators that he has at least three close relationships with Aztec High School students.