In Wisconsin, you can look at porn at school and get your teaching job back

M.D. Kittle
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Jan 21, 2014 1:25 PM
In Wisconsin, you can look at porn at school and get your teaching job back

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. – Here’s what Wisconsin’s legal system and its teachers unions have just taught the nation: If you’re a teacher and you get fired for looking at porn at work, you’ll get your job back.

Such is the case of Andrew Harris, former seventh-grade science teacher in the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District.

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FREE PORN: A Middleton-Cross Plains fired for viewing pornography at school has to be reinstated and he will receive nearly $200,000 in back pay, based on an arbitrator’s decision.

The district’s school board Monday voted in a special closed session to comply with an arbitrator’s 60-page order that demands Harris be reinstated. He was fired in 2010 after receiving and viewing multiple pornographic and sexually inappropriate images and videos, according to a complaint.

To add insult to the district’s injury, taxpayers will have to pay Harris nearly $200,000 in back pay. In total the district will spend nearly $1 million in the case, including legally defending its position that the firing was fair.

The board opted to end its legal challenge and “move on” after the state Supreme Court last week declined to take up the district’s appeal of the arbitrator’s decision.

“We were disappointed they did not decide to hear the case, and we are disappointed the legal system played out the way it did,” district spokesman Perry Hibner told Wisconsin Reporter on Tuesday.

Hibner said the district would not disclose details of the reinstatement plan until after district officials met with the Middleton Education Association on Tuesday afternoon. Whether Harris will be back in the same classroom, teach elsewhere in the district or opt not to return remains unclear.

The MEA did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

As the Wisconsin State Journal reported:

Harris and now-retired teachers Mike Duren and Gregg Cramer were part of a grievance the MEA filed on behalf of seven district employees after a 2009 investigation revealed the employees had viewed or shared pornographic or sexually inappropriate images, jokes or videos on district computers. Harris was terminated, while the rest received suspensions ranging from three to 15 days or reprimands.

A complaint by a female teacher whom Harris had shown an image of a nude woman prompted the investigation, which determined 23 emails Harris received from his sister over several years violated the district’s acceptable use policy.

A subsequent districtwide investigation found other teachers viewed or shared inappropriate content.

The arbitrator said Harris had in effect been treated unfairly because he was fired for viewing and sharing inappropriate content while others were reprimanded or suspended. The district also will have to pay back pay to two litigants who were suspended.

Hibner said that’s like comparing jaywalking to murder. He said the district’s investigation found that Harris viewed pornographic material, while the others did not.

“I can’t remember which Supreme Court justice said, ‘I can’t define pornography, but I know it when I see it.’ That’s what this case was,” Hibner said. “These were pictures of women either doing or being shown doing inappropriate things. These weren’t cheerleaders posing for a calendar. This was stuff I would have been embarrassed to look at and to show anyone.”

Many parents in the district are asking why the district doesn’t legally have the authority to fire a seventh-grade teacher caught viewing porn in school.

Kim Henderson, past president of the Wisconsin Parent Teacher Association, said the association has no official statement on the case other than the PTA encourages districts to “find good quality teachers but always be concerned for the safety and appropriateness of what a teacher is doing in relation to the children in the school.”

Hibner said parents in the district are scratching their heads about a process and the union that defended Harris.

“A lot of people are wondering how? Why? Really? Is this really something as an organization they want to stand for?” the spokesman said. “My wife’s a teacher, so I understand they (the union) feel the need to defend their membership. I also hope they would understand why we would feel this isn’t the right decision.”

Contact M.D. Kittle at mkittle@watchdog.org

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