Investigations

State clears Aztec Superintendent in case of reporting teacher misconduct

SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) - The New Mexico school superintendent who was under fire for how he handled a sexual misconduct investigation into a teacher is now in the clear, according to the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED).

Superintendent Kirk Carpenter's roughly 30-year career as an educator was on the line after disturbing allegations surfaced against one of his former Aztec High School teachers, 32-year-old James Coulter. 

The PED launched an investigation into Carpenter's license for not reporting Coulter's misconduct sooner.

The district knew about allegations of Coulter being inappropriate with a female student in 2015 but didn't report any misconduct to the PED until last year when new allegations emerged.

“I honestly do not feel I'm a threat to students,” Coulter told a PED investigator in June 2018. “I take care of them. I make sure they're taken care of in the best possible way.”

Coulter has since been charged with two counts of raping a teen student back in 2015.

The Public Education Department investigation also found Coulter falsified grades for a female student in his ethics class, giving her credit for assignments she didn't do.

“I did it to help her out so she could have her job, and so she could have four classes so she could cheer,” Coulter explained.

The investigator also questioned Coulter about a third female student after late-night flirtatious texts from 2017 with the student were discovered.

“I understand. The messages happened when she was a student,” Coulter said.

He said they were just friends and that he didn't have sex with the girl.

“Maybe some hand-holding but... it got to the point where we're like, we're gonna, we need to stop,” said Coulter.

An investigator later asked again, “The most was hand-holding?”

“Yeah,” Coulter replied.

“Kissing?” the investigation questioned.

“Kissing, yeah,” Coulter admitted.

Coulter is not charged criminally in that case.

Later in the PED interview, Coulter suggested that the students were the ones pursuing him.

“Yeah. I'm a younger guy and apparently, I'm good-looking. I don't think so, but apparently, people think I am. Or I'm charming. I know that much,” Coulter said.

Records show he resigned in May 2018, then lost his license to teach in New Mexico and is now in jail awaiting trial for the 2015 allegations.

Back then, the school did look into whether Coulter had sex with a student. However, the student denied it at the time. So, administrators decided it was unsubstantiated and just warned Coulter about having inappropriate conversations with students.

In his PED licensure investigation, Superintendent Carpenter argued that he reported Coulter’s alleged misconduct when the district actually had evidence of it last year. And it seems new Education Secretary Dr. Karen Trujillo believes he did enough.

The PED told KRQE News 13 that the Secretary decided to let Carpenter keep his license, agreeing with the recommendation of the hearing officer on the case.

A report from the hearing officer noted "inconsistencies, contradictions and inaccuracies" in the previous administration's case against Carpenter. It also highlighted the need for the PED to come up with clearer guidelines on which accusations administrators need to report to the state and when.

Carpenter agreed, saying he wants to help with that process.

"We want to fix it. We want to be part of the solution," he said.


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