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How bad was porn-watching teacher’s offenses? See ‘Lucky Midget’

By   /   January 29, 2014  /   No Comments

EDITOR’S NOTE: Adult content

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. — Andrew Harris has his defenders.

In the four-plus years since the disgraced middle school science teacher was found to have viewed scores of pornographic and sexually inappropriate images on his computer at school, some in the community – particularly some of his fellow educators — have come to Harris’ defense.

It wasn’t so bad, some have said. Not much worse than a Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, others have declared.

“I have viewed the ‘porn’ and it is nothing worse that (sic) what one would see in a Playboy magazine,” SFVeronica writes, offering her thoughts on a recent Wisconsin Reporter story on a suburban Madison saga that has gone national.

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‘DISGUSTING': Even some of Andrew Harris’ most vocal supporters found some of the adult content he viewed and shared “nasty,” according to documents obtained by Wisconsin Reporter.

But SFVeronica isn’t likely to find in the pages of Playboy photographs that rival the hardcore pornography of “Lucky Midget,” a short video featuring clips of a dwarf engaged in multiple sex acts with female partners.

And as scantily clad as Sports Illustrated swimsuit models may be, the magazine has yet to feature women in Brazilian thong bikinis fully exposing their genitalia.

Such images are among the 23 emails containing sexually explicit content that Harris received from his sister during a 14-month period, according to the investigation by the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District that ended with the educator’s dismissal in 2010.

Among the other sexual material Harris received and sometimes shared with fellow teachers in his Glacier Creek Middle School classroom included seven images of naked women exposing their breasts and genitalia and a slide show video flashing images of beer and topless women, set to the music of a song called “Titties and Beer.”

Many of the subject lines alerted Harris to what he was about to open, boldly marked as “XXX” or ADULT CONTENT.

According to the district’s investigation, Harris was no helpless recipient of the pornographic content.

“Gotta love ya!!!” he responded to his sister. “Wow those are bizarre nips,” he said in response to another series of images. “wow! Happy easter monday to me!!” Harris declared after having received the “Lucky Midget” video.

Harris acknowledged having received on school time scores of sexual or other content that would have been deemed a violation of the district’s Acceptable Use Policy during the previous nine years, according to district documents and exhibits obtained by Wisconsin Reporter.

He had shown sexual images to his fellow team members in his teaching block, the female teachers that made up what Harris had deemed a close-knit group, according to the investigation. Apparently nobody complained.

Harris, according to some of his fellow teachers at the time, was a “nice guy,” “a great teacher,” descriptors that some of his former students have used, too. Harris’ performance evaluations have been “generally positive with no on-going (sic) concerns related to performance,” according to the district’s assessment.

Not everybody was amused by Harris’ sense of humor.

Kristen Davis, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Glacier Creek at the time and a long-time member of Harris’ block, complained to principal Timothy Keeler in October 2009 about a sexually explicit image Harris had shown her and other team members at a meeting in Harris’ classroom. It was around 9:25 a.m. on a school day, according to district documents.

The picture shows a woman lying face down on the grass with her legs open and genitalia exposed with a multi-colored target painted around her genitalia.

The complaint launched the district’s review of Harris’ conduct, and led to an investigation of wider abuses of the district’s Acceptable Use Policy by several teachers and administrators.

In the end, Harris was fired, five educators were suspended up to 12 days and two others received letters of reprimand.

But that definitely wasn’t the end.

Not fair

The arbitrator in the case, Karen Mawhinney, in 2012 agreed with the Middleton Education Association, the teachers union, that Harris had been treated unfairly. Her decision was upheld by a judge in Dane County Circuit Court and by the District IV Court of Appeals in Madison, which agreed that the district’s decision to fire Harris was “undermined” by its decision not to “terminate the employment of other teachers who also viewed explicit materials in school or on campus.”

While the arbitrator concurred that the pornographic video “Lucky Midget” is “really offensive,” she concluded the volume of pornographic emails Harris received was “not overwhelming by any means.”

The district’s conclusions and the arbitrator’s 60-page ruling couldn’t have been more different if one were written by Shakespeare and the other by Shakira. 

Mawhinney describes the image that precipitated the investigation as containing a “nude woman,” with a target painted on her “nude derriere.”

Same conclusions at the appeals court, something the district protested in its appeal to the state Supreme Court, which earlier this month declined to hear the case.

“The court of appeals’ decision sanitizes the shocking character of the pornography viewed,” the district wrote in its petition to the court. “This alarming understatement makes the obscene images found on District computers sound as inoffensive as an ancient Greek sculpture.”

District Superintendent Don Johnson said Harris’ offenses and the volume of images he received and shared were significantly more severe than the others who got lighter punishments.

So what if Harris gawked at porn at school, his defenders have said. Willie Haus, Middleton Education Association’s attorney, defended Harris, noting the teacher didn’t seek out any of the images. Haus said dirty jokes and pornographic images are found in plenty of other workplaces, according to the district investigation.

“Haus further observed that people assume the computer information is just what is actively on the machine at that point of time and that is wrong, but it does need some type of perspective beyond Victorian times,” the district report states.

In essence, the union’s argument is that, sure, Harris looked at and passed along porn and other sexually inappropriate content, but he didn’t try to jump online and search for it — not that he could, given the district’s network filter — and, well, a lot of people do it.

Above all, Harris’ supporters say, there were never any students present when he viewed the material.

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WHISTLEBLOWER: Kristen Davis, now an eighth-grade teacher at Glacier Creek Middle School, complained to administrators about Harris in 2009, starting a districtwide investigation.

Davis, in her testimony, said she worried about students seeing the images. She told investigators that Harris had in the past made inappropriate comments about female students in the school. One of the emails in question contained a link that would take the user to an adult video game website titled hornygamer.com. Harris told investigators that he could not access that site, and his email response was, “cant do it – I am internet blocked! damn.”

The site included a game called “Busty Schoolgirl,” and “Tutor Sylvia,” noting that “Sylvia, the hottest girl in school, has trouble with math. So give her some very private tutoring lessons.”

Harris could not be reached for comment for this and other stories. The teachers union has declined further comment.

Teacher bullying?

The educator, who on Wednesday returns to teaching at the district’s Kromrey Middle School as required by the arbitrator’s ruling, also has been accused of harassing Davis, the teacher who turned him in.

According to district documents, Harris was orchestrating a campaign to “shun” Davis. Fellow teacher Shelley Festge, in an email to Harris amid the investigation, suggested they Photoshop Davis’ face onto a Playboy pin-up or “better yet, photoshop her face onto a picture from one of those nude fatty sites. Something really large and grotesque.”

Harris’ response: “ha I love it!!!!!!!! actually get to be her facebook friend and then put it on facebook,” according to district documents.

Festge told investigators it was all just kidding around and that nothing was ever done. She acknowledged that “this type of dialogue could be viewed as retribution behavior related to a situation that did not involve her,” according to the investigation.

The arbitrator, who has ordered the district to reimburse Harris nearly $200,000 in back pay, concluded that Harris was “merely blowing off steam.”

Melanie Cochems, another teacher in Harris’ block, told investigators that the educational teammates “shared intimate stories with each other.” According to Davis and others, that intimacy extended to conversations about menstrual cycles, personal stories about sex and the use of obscene language. Davis, too, was in on the discussions, according to her fellow teammates at the time. But the relationship started to sour after Davis, according to district documents, opened a Myspace account and allowed students to comment on it.

Her former teammates suggest that, following an acrimonious team meeting, Davis may have had an ax to grind.

Johnson, the district superintendent, said the investigation uncovered concerns that went beyond the abuse of the district’s Acceptable Use Policy and into the question of a culture, as limited as it might have been, that would perpetuate such behavior.

“Two females on the team said they were fine with” Harris showing them the pornographic images, Johnson said. “That raises some serious questions that there is something seriously wrong with the environment of this team.”

Gov. Scott Walker on Tuesday urged state schools Superintendent Tony Evers to revoke Andrew Harris’ teachers’ license.

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

Click here to LEARN HOW TO STEAL OUR STUFF!

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

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