Superintendent learned of decision about a week or two ago

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FARMINGTON — Aztec Municipal School District Superintendent Kirk Carpenter is happy the case from the state education department to remove his licenses as an educator has been dismissed.

Now he hopes to work with the state on clarifying rules and statutes to make sure they are correctly interpreted by state education officials — not improperly interpreted as the previous education secretary's administration did in his case.

Carpenter told The Daily Times he was notified about a week or two ago that New Mexico Public Education Secretary Dr. Karen Trujillo agreed to dismiss the notice of contemplated action and the amended notice of contemplated action filed against him last year.  

"It should have never happened in the first place," Carpenter told The Daily Times. "I think it's an important decision for every administrator."

More: Hearing officer: Notice filed against Carpenter should be dismissed

Carpenter stressed he is speaking about the previous administration of the PED under former State Education Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski and not under the current administration run by Trujillo.

The New Mexico Public Education Department filed a notice of contemplated action against Carpenter on Sept. 19.

The agency accused him of failing to report inappropriate contact between former Aztec High School teacher James Coulter and a female student during the 2016-2017 school year. Carpenter was also accused of failing to discharge the duties of a superintendent.

The 17-page report prepared by Hearing Officer Muriel McClelland was delivered to the state education secretary on Feb. 28. McClelland recommended at the end of the report that the case against Carpenter be dismissed.

There were two days of hearings conducted in December by McClelland regarding the notice of contemplated action.

Carpenter said there are a lot of contradictions in the current rules and procedures that need to be reviewed to ensure that no other administrator goes through what he did.

"We need to fix that so nobody has any questions or uncertainty like (the PED) pointed at me," Carpenter said.

Coulter is accused of two felony counts of criminal sexual contact with a 17-year-old Aztec high student in 2015, according to court documents filed by the San Juan County District Attorney's Office.

The hearing officer's report describes how district officials investigated an alleged relationship between Coulter and a female student, both of whom denied the allegations.

More: Aztec superintendent appeals decision seeking license revocation

As part of the investigation, Coulter was disciplined with a letter of direction in 2016 to address inappropriate conversations.

The investigation was later closed on the belief the allegations were "hearsay and unsubstantiated," according to the report.

The former teacher resigned on May 20 after district officials reported to the PED that Coulter allegedly sent inappropriate text messages to the female victim of the Dec. 7, 2017, Aztec High School shooting. There was no sexual contact alleged in the report.

Carpenter noted that former PED Director of Educator Quality Christopher Eide approved and signed off on filing the notice of contemplated action without reviewing it, which McClelland also stated in her report.

The hearing officer's report also noted the notice of contemplated action contained false or inaccurate allegations along with many misstatements.

For the future, Carpenter said he hopes to work with PED officials to clarify the rules and processes which led the state education department to seek the removal of his licenses to avoid future incidents.

Joshua Kellogg covers breaking news for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at jkellogg@daily-times.com.

Editor's Note: Dates have been modified in the story.

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