UPDATE: DPI: Middleton teacher Andrew Harris allowed to keep teaching license

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UPDATED Thursday, April 17, 2014 --- 1:04 p.m.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, Middleton teacher Andrew Harris will be allowed to keep his teaching license.

The school board voted to fire Harris from Glacier Creek Middle School in 2010 after he and other teachers looked at sexually explicit images at school.

Arbitrators ruled the school district wrongly fired Harris. He returned to teach science at Kromrey Middle School this year.

In a letter the DPI said that while Harris's conduct was "highly inappropriate," it does not meet the legal definition of immoral conduct as the law stood at the time.

The law defining immoral conduct was changed in 2011, which was after the conduct occurred.

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UPDATED Wednesday, January 29, 2014 --- 2:57 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Gov. Scott Walker says one of his aides did not ask him to send a letter to the state superintendent asking that a teacher who viewed pornography on his work computer have his license revoked.

The aide, deputy press secretary Julie Lund, posted a message on her personal Facebook account on Tuesday expressing displeasure with the teacher being allowed back in the classroom at a school her daughter would attend next year.

The same day as the post, Walker sent a letter asking that action be taken swiftly to revoke the teaching license for Andrew Harris, who works at the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District.

Walker said Wednesday he empathized with Lund's feelings, but said she didn't ask him to send the letter. He says she was just voicing frustration.

Copyright 2014: Associated Press

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UPDATED Tuesday, January 28, 2014 --- 12:43 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Gov. Scott Walker wants a middle school teacher who viewed pornography on his classroom computer to lose his license.

Walker on Tuesday sent a letter to state Superintendent Tony Evers saying he should act quickly to begin license revocation proceedings against Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District teacher Andrew Harris.

The school board voted to fire Harris in 2010 after he and other teachers looked at sexually explicit images at school. But an arbitrator ruled in 2012 that Harris had been unfairly terminated and after the state Supreme Court refused to take up the case, Harris returned to the classroom Monday.

Neither Harris's attorney nor a spokesman for Evers immediately returned messages seeking reaction to Walker's letter.

Copyright 2014: Associated Press

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UPDATED Tuesday, January 28, 2014 --- 12:27 p.m.

Governor Walker has sent a letter to the State Superintendent asking him to begin the process to revoke the license of Middleton teacher Andrew Harris.

Harris was fired from Glacier Creek Middle School in 2010 for viewing pornography at work. The Wisconsin Supreme Court recently declined to take up an appeal of an arbitrator's ruling by the school district. So Harris returned to teach science at Kromrey Middle School.

Below is the text of the letter sent from Gov. Walker to State Superintendent Tony Evers:

Dear State Superintendent Evers:

Since taking office, I have worked to put in place reforms giving local school districts the tools they need to hire and fire teachers based on merit, performance, and professional conduct. With the passage of 2011 Wisconsin Act 10, schools now have the ability to move away from the old contracts, which prevented them from doing so.

The reforms support excellence in education because they ensure our students are educated by the best and brightest teachers. The reforms also protect students from teachers who may engage in immoral conduct or fall short of the expectations put forth by parents, the community, and school leaders. This is important not only to me, but also to parents and caretakers all throughout our state.

In 2010, the elected officials serving on the local school board overseeing the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District made the decision to terminate the employment of middle school teacher Andrew Harris, after an investigation revealed he repeatedly viewed pornographic material at school and on a school computer. Unfortunately, the union arbitration process ordered that he be allowed to return to the classroom, with back pay. The district has spent about $1 million on costs and legal fees in the case.

Reforms we put in place in 2011 Act 10 put the power back in the hands of local officials, including school boards, so they can make the decisions they feel best serve their students and their community. While the defense of Mr. Harris’s actions by the teacher’s union ultimately negated the desire of the Middleton-Cross Plains School Board to remove him from the classroom, it appears that his behavior meets the definition of “Immoral conduct” under Wisconsin Statutes Chapter 115.31(1)(c).

After hearing from concerned parents, I am asking you to act efficiently in your investigation into the actions of Mr. Harris and to initiate revocation proceedings. The arbitration process afforded to Mr. Harris failed the school district and the students. It has taken both a financial and emotional toll on the district. Cases, such as this one, are a good example of why our reforms are necessary.

Situations, such as these, prompted me to sign 2011 Act 84 giving the State Superintendent clear authority to take action. Act 84 allows the State Superintendent to revoke a license for “Immoral conduct,” which includes “the intentional use of an educational agency’s equipment to download, view, solicit, seek, display, or distribute pornographic material.”

I am confident that the overwhelming majority of teachers and educators across the state and in the Middleton-Cross Plains District are committed and dedicated to working hard every day for the benefit of our students, their families, and our state as a whole. Teachers who make decisions that contradict what is best for students shed a negative light on their colleagues and the district, and in some cases, put students at risk.

Parents and caretakers deserve to know they are sending children to schools where everyone on staff is committed to excellence. Thank you for your swift action on this matter and I look forward to your review and remedy.

Sincerely,
Scott Walker
Governor

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UPDATED Saturday, January 25, 2014 --- 7:50 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Students of a Middleton school teacher who viewed pornography at work are being allowed to transfer to a study hall if they are uncomfortable in his class.

Glacier Creek Middle School teacher Andrew Harris was fired in 2010 for sharing sexually inappropriate images. The Wisconsin Supreme Court recently declined to take up an appeal of an arbitrator ruling by the school district. So Harris is returning Monday to teach science at Kromrey Middle School.

School District spokesman Perry Hibner tells the State Journal (http://bit.ly/1ixGSVb) there will also be a second staff member with Harris for at least two weeks to ease parents' concerns.

Harris' attorney, William Haus, says he suspects the district isn't acting in good faith to comply with an arbitrator's ruling that Harris be reinstated to an equivalent position.

Copyright 2014: Associated Press

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UPDATED: Friday, January 24, 2014 --- 6:00 p.m.

Middleton --- It was a bitter cold morning with heated words. Friday, parents protested outside Kromrey Middle School as Andrew Harris, the controversial seventh grade science teacher returned to the job.

“I never really thought this teacher would end up at our school,” said one Middleton parent.

“He said, I want to earn back your trust. I want to show everybody I’m a great teacher. He has said throughout this process, he wants to get back in the classroom,” said Middleton Cross Plains School District spokesperson, Perry Hibner.

As the district moves forward, the headlines of viewing porn at work stay fresh in some parents minds.

The district says, they hope for an easy transition. They’re even adding another teacher in his classroom to help ease concerns.

While some parents remain unhappy, the district wants the focus to be on the students.

“My goal would be at the end of this semester, that students in his class say, I had a great experience, he did a great job, and the concerns that I had, or my parents expressed to me, were unfounded,” said Hibner.

The district also says, the students who are in his class now, cannot be moved out, even if parents disagree. However, a study hall option is available if they choose.

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UPDATED: Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014 --- 6:30 p.m.

A four-year-legal battle costing the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School district nearly $1 million has finally come to an end.

The former Glacier Creek teacher who was fired in 2010 for viewing pornography at work will be back in the classroom next Monday.

Andrew Harris is to teach 7th grade science again, but at Kromrey Middle School.

"I'm not unaware that some parents won't be happy with this," said Superintendent Don Johnson. "And I wish we had another solution. But we are required to follow the law. And that's not an option for us. So we intend to move forward positively and not create a negative environment at this point."

Johnson says placing Harris at Kromney will help give him a fresh start. He will replace Eric Engel, who has accepted a position as a Dean of Students at Kromrey.

An email was sent home to parents Tuesday, updating them on the situation.

Johnson says students will not be able to be reassigned to a different 7th grade science classroom, even if parents have concerns.

UPDATED: Monday, Jan. 20, 2014 --- 10:15 p.m.

The Middleton school board came to a decision Monday night on how it plans to reinstate Andrew Harris--a middle school teacher who was fired for viewing pornography at work.

After meeting for 90 minutes behind closed doors, board president Ellen Lindgren said, "The district will comply with the arbitrator's orders. The board and the administration have developed a transition plan to facilitate Mr. Harris' reinstatement."

The board would not go into further detail except to say it will meet with the Middleton Education Association Tuesday to go over the reinstatement proposal.
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UPDATED Thursday, January 16, 2014 --- 9:34 a.m.

MIDDLETON, Wis. (AP) -- A Middleton elementary school teacher fired for viewing pornography at work could be back on the job soon.

The state Supreme Court has declined to take up an appeal of an arbitrator ruling by the Middleton-Cross Plains School District. Glacier Creek Middle School teacher Andrew Harris was fired in 2010 and six other district employees were suspended for viewing and sharing porn and sexually inappropriate images, jokes or videos on district computers.

District spokesman Perry Hibner tells the State Journal that Harris could be back at work within a month as a result of the Supreme Court's decision. It ends a four-year legal battle between the school district and the Middleton Education Association.

Copyright 2014: Associated Press

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UPDATED Wednesday, January 15, 2014 --- 9:30 p.m.

The Middleton Cross Plains-Area teacher fired for looking at pornography while on the job could be back in the classroom by the end of the month.

This week the Wis. Supreme Court announced it would not hear the school district's case against Andrew Harris.

This appeal to the state's highest court was the district's last chance in what's been nearly four years of failed attempts to keep Harris away from students.

On a chilly January afternoon, news about Harris' possible return sends a different kind of chill down some parents' spines.

"I don't like that there is evidence of pornography that he was viewing in school while being around students," said Jennifer Valtierra. She's picking up her daughter at Glacier Creek, the middle school where Harris taught science, and was caught viewing inappropriate images.

"When she comes two years later into 8th grade and if he's there, I won't want her in his classroom," Valtierra said.

"We weren't surprised that the supreme court didn't see fit to take the case," said Harris' attorney, William Haus.

Haus, who represents the Middleton Education Association, says his client was unfairly disciplined compared to other faculty who engaged in similar behavior. An arbitrator ruled in favor of Harris and reduced his punishment to a 15-day suspension. That decision was later upheld by the circuit and appeals courts. Now the school board must decide how it will re-instate Harris.

"The ball is really in the district's court. I mean, Andy Harris can't just get into his car and go into work tomorrow," Haus said. "So he needs to wait until the district does whatever it's going to do."

In a statement Wednesday, the district expressed disappointment but says it will comply with the arbitrator's order that Harris must return to his former position or to one that's equivalent.

"Andy Harris wants to go back to work, he wants to resume his career," Haus said.

The district faces nearly $1 million in legal fees and back pay it owes Harris.

The school board will hold a special meeting on the issue this coming Monday at 6:30 p.m. at the District Administrative Center.
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UPDATED Monday, October 28, 2013 ----7:28 a.m.

MIDDLETON, Wis. (AP) -- The Middleton-Cross Plains School Board is asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to take its case against a teacher accused of viewing pornography at work.

The school district wants the high court to overturn an arbitrator's decision to give the give the middle school science teacher his job back and reduce the suspensions given two other teachers.

The three were part of a grievance the teachers union filed on behalf of seven school district employees accused of viewing or sharing pornography or sexually inappropriate images, jokes or videos.

The State Journal says Glacier Creek Middle School teacher Andrew Harris was fired while the rest received suspensions or reprimands. The district maintains the content viewed by Harris was more inappropriate than the material seen by others.

The case has cost the district about $600,000 in legal fees so far.

Copyright 2013: Associated Press

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UPDATED Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013 --- 7:30 p.m.
Posted by: Madeline Anderson

The board of education for the Middleton Cross Plains Area School District continues to fight an appellate court's decision to reinstate a middle school teacher accused of viewing porn at work.

While teaching seventh grade science at Glacier Creek, the school district says Andrew Harris received, viewed and showed pornographic images on the job.

"It's definitely hard core pornography," said Ellen Lindgren, the president of the school board. "And very offensive and a legitimate concern for our parents that have seen someone that would view this pornography and then have students streaming into the room immediately afterwards."

The school board terminated Harris because of his behavior back in May of 2010. The Middleton Education Association filed a grievance challenging the punishment, and an arbitrator largely ruled in favor of the MEA, reducing Harris' termination to a 15-day suspension on the grounds other faculty who were accused of similar conduct in unrelated instances weren't treated as harshly.

Since then, the board has unsuccessfully appealed the decision to put Harris back in the classroom. Now, in a unanimous vote Monday night, Lindgren says the district hopes to take the case to the State Supreme Court.

"I don't think we had a choice," Lindgren said. "We would have had great upheaval at whatever school he was in."

Despite orders to reinstate Harris, district and union came to an agreement that would ultimately keep him away from students. Beginning in August 2013, Harris is on paid leave, receiving $43,000 dollars a year--half of his salary plus benefits.

"I've heard from approximately 25 people," said Perry Hibner, the communications director for MCPASD. "Only one has come out and said, would you please stop this, money is an issue."

Harris' lawyer says he's not surprised the district is appealing for a second time.

"In this case, the district is willing to spend unlimited resources to vindicate a view that has clearly been rejected by every single neutral that has heard the case," said William Haus, the attorney for the MEA.

"It has been a costly process, but I think Dr. Johnson said it accurately, the safety of our kids is priceless," Lindgren said.
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UPDATED Monday, March 12, 2012 --- 10:35 p.m.

The Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District met Monday night regarding this case.

After a closed session meeting the board decided by an 8 to 1 vote to appeal the independent arbitrator's ruling to reinstate Andrew Harris.

The appeal process can take up to six to nine months, before a final decision is made.

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UPDATED Monday, March 5, 2012 --- 10:47 p.m.

The Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District met Monday night regarding this case.

They discussed their options regarding Andrew Harris, but did not make a decision.

They plan to talk about the issue again at a meeting scheduled for next Monday.

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UPDATED Thursday March 1, 2012 --- 5:35 p.m.
Posted By: Barclay Pollak

In a near 60 page document an independent arbitrator outlines the relationship between Andy Harris and three of his female colleagues. The arbitrator says all parties involved used adult humor and spoke of adult topics on occasion while at work.

She also says that Mr. Harris should not have been fired. He should have been punished to the tune of a 15 day suspension with out pay.

Willie Haus is the Middleton Education Association's lawyer. He believes that his client may have been dealt with more harshly than others named in the report because of his ties to the union. Haus says just days before the allegations surfaced his client sent out a letter to teachers that was critical of the district and its handling of their latest round of contract negotiations.

Haus says, " Mr. Harris was an advocate on the union side he sat at the negotiation table. He wrote a letter that they didn't like. "

Haus is concerned this saga may not be over even with this latest ruling. Haus says part of his concern stems from an e-mail sent in May of 2010 from the district to someone inquiring about Harris' former position. The e-mail says, " It is not the district's intent to return Andy to the classroom at any point or for any reason."

" They've been spending more time talking about appeals and what their options are than talking about how they're going to implement the award," says Haus.

NBC15 did contact the Middleton-Cross Plains School district for a comment today. They refused our request. But the issue will be discussed at a Board of Education meeting Monday.

We also contacted Mr. Harris for a comment. He has not gotten back to us.
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UPDATED Wednesday, February 29, 2012 --- 9:50 p.m.

The attorney representing the Middleton teacher's union in this case says he is upset with the Middleton-Cross Plain's statement released earlier today. Attorney Willie Haus says the statement's suggestion that the ruling sends the message that it's okay for staff to view pornography at school is unfair and false. Haus says the arbitrator's ruling clearly indicates Harris's actions were subject to discipline, but that the district went too far by firing Harris. Haus also says Harris was targeted by district officials because he was involved in the teachers' union, and that other staff who committed similar violations had less severe punishment.

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UPDATED Wednesday, February 29, 2012 --- 10:45 a.m.

Press Release from the Middleton-Cross Plains School District:

Arbitrator Largely Rules Against
Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District

The Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District learned on Tuesday that an arbitrator ruled largely in favor of the Middleton Education Association in its grievance.

Andrew Harris was a science teacher at Glacier Creek Middle School in Cross Plains when he was placed on administrative leave in December 2009 after the school district learned he received 23 e-mails containing pornography and other adult content. He was placed on unpaid leave a month later. He was formally dismissed by the Board of Education on May 3, 2010.

Five other teachers received unpaid suspensions, one substitute teacher was dismissed and a veteran administrator resigned following a district-wide investigation.

Testimony in the case began in October 2010 and ended in May 2011. Since then, briefs and counter-briefs have been filed with the arbitrator.

The Board of Education has scheduled a meeting on Monday, March 5 at 6:30 p.m. to consider options moving forward.

The following is a statement from Superintendent Don Johnson and the Board of Education regarding Tuesday’s ruling from arbitrator Karen Mawhinney:

“The Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District is disappointed by the ruling from the arbitrator. This ruling completely minimizes conduct that cannot be tolerated: it sends the message that it is acceptable for employees to view pornography at school, during the student-school day, on school equipment. It also flies in the face of the need to provide a professional work environment and a safe place to educate our children.

“The Board of Education will review the ruling and consider its options.”

The Board and district administrators will have no further comment until after Monday’s special Board meeting.

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UPDATED Saturday, April 17, 2010 --- 8:30 a.m.

MIDDLETON, Wis. (AP) — An investigation into the viewing of adult content on the Middleton-Cross Plains School District's e-mail system has led to the suspensions of five staff members.

The Wisconsin Journal Sentinel reports Friday that they served up to 12 days of unpaid suspensions. The district released the specific violations and punishments in a report on Friday.

The local teachers union is challenging the suspensions, although a grievance has been denied by the district. The union can seek arbitration, however.

Union lawyer Willie Haus says the district's policies on the matter aren't clear and the penalties imposed don't make sense.

The report says three other staff members also shared adult images or jokes. One person retired and two others received letters of reprimand.

Information from:
Wisconsin State Journal
http://www.madison.com/wsj

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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UPDATED Wednesday, April 7, 2010 --- 4:40 p.m.

Click HERE To Read Entire Article In The Middleton Times-Tribune

According to the Middleton Times-Tribune, the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District has released a summary of its findings regarding a complaint made against a middle school teacher currently on unpaid administrative leave for alleged misuse of school technology.

According to the newspaper's online report, the 309-page report indicates that the teacher violated the district's Acceptable Use Policy, which prohibits "accessing or transmitting materials that are obscene or sexually explicit" using district email.

Click HERE To Read Entire Article In The Middleton Times-Tribune

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Posted Wednesday, February 3, 2010 --- 2:30 p.m.

Press Release from the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District:

There have been incidents involving adult content material being transferred via district email, which violates district policy regarding appropriate use of technology. As soon as administration became aware of this, swift and appropriate action was taken.

After receiving a complaint about one staff member, we began an investigation. As a result, a middle school staff member is on unpaid administrative leave while a full investigation is being completed. As a precautionary part of this process we are completing a thorough review of our entire email system.

During this review we discovered additional violations of district policy. There are seven high school staff members and one administrator that will receive some type of discipline. The administrator chose to retire; the others will receive disciplinary action based on the severity of the violation. In addition, one substitute teacher was dismissed. For legal and privacy reasons, we are unable to share more specific information at this time because this is an on-going personnel matter and investigation.

Our first concern was, and continues to be, the safety and well-being of our students. This investigation does not involve children in any manner. And, while we have uncovered district policy violations, there is no evidence of any illegal activity. We will continue our investigation


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