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

By   /   January 21, 2014  /   No Comments

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

UPDATE 4:50 p.m.

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 at Glacier Creek Middle School 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 on the case, the brunt of which went to 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.

On Tuesday afternoon, the district announced it has has offered Harris a position teaching the same subject and grade at Kromrey Middle School.

Superintendent Don Johnson in a press release said the district believes the offer meets the arbitrator’s ruling from February 2012 that the district must offer Harris his former position or a substantially equivalent position. Johnson and other administrators met with Middleton Education Association president Chris Bauman and their attorney early Tuesday afternoon.

Harris could not be reached for comment. Bauman did not respond to Wisconsin Reporter’s request for comment.

Harris will replace Eric Engel, who has accepted a position as a Dean of Students at Kromrey, according to Johnson. Harris is expected to report to school on Friday and will begin teaching students when second semester commences on Monday.

As the Wisconsin State Journal reported Tuesday morning:

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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M.D. Kittle is national First Amendment reporter at Watchdog.org. Contact him at mkittle@watchdog.org.

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