PED seeks to revoke Aztec superintendent's licenses

Shelby Perea
Albuquerque Journal
Kirk Carpenter

ALBUQUERQUE — The state Public Education Department is seeking to revoke the licenses of Aztec Superintendent Kirk Carpenter for what it is calling a failure to report sexual misconduct incidents involving a teacher.

James Coulter, a former Aztec High School math and ethics teacher, and basketball coach, is in jail awaiting trial on two felony counts of criminal sexual contact of a minor over incidents that occurred in 2015.

PED investigative documents show he was also accused — but has not been charged -- in connection with incidents that were reported in 2018. But the PED documents, released to the Journal late Tuesday in response to a request under the state's open records law, allege there were no reports made by the school or the district to law enforcement or the PED.

The documents reveal that the most recent report of alleged misconduct involved the female victim of the Dec. 7, 2017, Aztec High School shooting. Coulter, however, denies that there was a physical relationship with that student.

Carpenter, who is in the process of appealing the revocation of his teaching and administrative licenses, could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.

He has been superintendent of the Aztec school district since 2009. Carpenter, who has a Master of Arts in education administration, has worked in the district for decades, including 17 years at Aztec High School as a teacher, vice principal and principal, according to his Linkedin page. He has also coached football and baseball.

"The PED has investigated the case of Superintendent Carpenter and issued a notice of contemplated action to revoke his licenses based on a failure to report incidents at Aztec that jeopardize the safety of students," PED spokesman Chris Eide told the Journal on Tuesday.

James Dee Coulter

In May, the state education department received a complaint filed by Aztec Municipal Schools that Coulter was falsifying grades for a student taking his ethics class. During an investigation, the PED discovered that Coulter had also been accused of misconduct with other students.

The district was alerted that the female shooting victim was one of those students after her mother found text messages between the teacher and her daughter, according to a PED investigation.

The text messages appeared to show an improper relationship with the student that had not become physical. In several texts, Coulter talks about wanting to have an intimate relationship, but having to wait until after she graduated.

"The school district was made aware of this issue by the mother of the deceased student, who brought her daughters (sic) cellphone to the school to review several text messages between Mr. Coulter and the student in March of 2018," the report states.

PED's investigative report states that the messages "do indicate that Mr. Coulter and (the student) were in a relationship beyond the normal relationship of a student-teacher."

After the school looked through the messages and confronted Coulter, he admitted to sending the female student messages, but denied sexual contact.

Luis Robles, the Albuquerque attorney representing the slain girl's family, declined to comment.

Coulter, 32, has resigned from Aztec High School.

He was arrested and booked into the San Juan County Detention Center in August on four counts of criminal sexual penetration of a minor, but now faces two counts of criminal sexual contact of a minor. A judge ordered that he remain in custody pending trial, which is set for January.

The teacher's relationship with the student who died was reported to the district in 2018. But that wasn't the first incident involving the teacher that the school knew about, according to PED's investigation.

In 2016, there was also an internal investigation into Coulter for possible sexual misconduct involving a student. It's unclear whether that is the case that led to the criminal charges. While the school concluded the case was "unfounded," the education department investigation determined that sexual misconduct did occur.

"The NMPED investigation did find that in fact there was sexual misconduct involving Mr. Coulter and a student during this time period," the report says.

After being arrested, Coulter admitted to having had sexual relations with more than one student, according to court documents.