By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON, Wis. — A Middleton-Cross Plains School District official says more than 20 people turned out Friday morning at the district’s Kromrey Middle School to protest the return of a seventh-grade science teacher reinstated nearly four years after he was fired for looking at and sharing pornography at school.
District spokesman Perry Hibner said Andrew Harris did report to school Friday for a professional staff day, attending a staff meeting in the morning. Harris was expected to spend the rest of the day with Kromrey seventh-grade science teacher Eric Engel, whose class Harris will take over on Monday when students return to school from a long weekend.
Hibner said district Superintendent Don Johnson met with Kromrey staff and parents, and “answered a lot of questions.”
“And Mr. Harris did come over to the school (Thursday) and met with the principal for about an hour. They went over logistics and addressed some of the concerns on everyone’s part,” Hibner said.
The district also is giving concerned parents the option of moving their children out of Harris’ class and into a study hall, according to the spokesman. He could not say how many parents have requested that option. About 125 students in five sections are enrolled in Harris’ science class.
“We’re also going to be putting in a paraeducator in that classroom starting on Monday,” Hibner added. “We think it’s in the best interest of everybody, the students, the parents, even the teacher. It has been four years since he’s been in the classroom, and we think it would be beneficial for someone to help him.”
Harris taught at the district’s other middle school, Glacier Creek Middle School, before his position was terminated in 2010 after an investigation found that he viewed and shared multiple pornographic images and other inappropriate sexual content on his school computer.
His reinstatement has been ordered by an arbitrator, who ruled in 2012 that the district treated Harris unfairly because other teachers who looked at sexual content in school received lesser forms of discipline, such as suspensions or reprimands. The district, which has said Harris’ offenses were much more severe, challenged the ruling. The arbitrator also ruled that Harris receive nearly $200,000 in back pay, and the complete order has been upheld by district and appeals courts.
Hibner said no teacher will lose a position due to Harris’ return to the classroom.
Engel has been promoted to dean of students at Kromrey, but he would not have assumed that post until after the end of the school year.
Hibner said there would have been much more disruption had Harris returned to Glacier Creek, more than likely requiring moving the seventh-grade teacher there to the eighth-grade class and transferring the eighth-grade teacher to Kromrey – all due to the teachers union’s seniority rules in the existing collective-bargaining agreement.
“It would have been more of a domino effect,” Hibner said. “It’s not the only thing we considered, but it would impact less.”
Several parents, meanwhile, have told the district they plan to contact the state Department of Public Instruction to demand the agency come to a decision on the status of Harris’ teaching license, Hibner said.
As Wisconsin Reporter first reported Thursday, DPI has had the district’s request to revoke Harris’ license since mid-2010. DPI spokesman Patrick Gasper said the matter remains under investigation. He pointed to DPI investigation procedure, noting that there are “certain reasons” why the agency may not bring an investigation to a close after three and a half years. In essence, other players in the case — the arbitrator and the courts, in particular — could come to decisions that have an impact on DPI’s investigation and decision.
“(T)he DPI investigation process is thorough and labor intensive, independent of other actions/determinations made by other parties,” Gasper said in an email.
That said, Gasper acknowledged there is no timeline for a decision on Harris’ license status.
Contact M.D. Kittle at [email protected]