Teachers' Union Wins: Wisconsin Porn-Watching Teacher Reinstated
On Tuesday, Gov. Scott Walker (R) of Wisconsin urged his state’s school superintendent to revoke the teachers’ license of Andrew Harris, a middle school teacher who was found to have viewed pornography and other inappropriate sexual material at the school.
According to Wisconsin Reporter at Watchdog.org, Walker sent a letter to state schools Superintendent Tony Evers regarding Harris, who teaches in the Middleton-Cross Plains School District.
“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,” Walker wrote. “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.”
Harris was fired in 2010 after another teacher filed a complaint stating that Harris showed her pornographic images at the school. A district investigation found that Harris received hundreds of pornographic images, videos and inappropriate jokes in his school email account and viewed them while at work.
Harris’ union, however, filed a grievance requesting that he be reinstated. The arbitrator in the case, according to Wisconsin Reporter, was Karen Mawhinney, who contributed $1,500 to both of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s failed campaigns for governor -- in 2010 and the recall election in 2012 -- against Walker.
In Harris’ case, Mawhinney sided with the union, ordering the district to reinstate him to a similar position and pay him nearly $200,000 in back pay. In addition, the district spent $627,000 in legal fees in an unsuccessful attempt to have the decision overturned in the courts. The state Supreme Court declined to review the case.
The school district reassigned Harris to Kromrey Middle School where he was to begin teaching again on Monday prior to a school cancellation due to cold weather.
The district plans to have a teacher’s aide in the classroom with Harris and permit his students to attend study hall rather than his class. According to Wisconsin Reporter, district spokesman Perry Hibner said that at least five students have requested the study hall. Harris will teach about 125 students.
Parents, however, remain concerned and formed a protest against Harris’ return. Hibner reportedly said the district has received scores of emails and phone calls from angry parents.
School district Superintendent Don Johnson told Wisconsin Reporter that his district must serve all constituencies involved – students, parents, teachers, the community, and Andrew Harris. Johnson added that the district must honor Harris’ reinstatement or face the threat of a lawsuit from the teacher and his union, the Middleton Education Association.
According to Hibner, the district asked the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to revoke Harris’ license in 2010 for “immoral conduct,” but the request has either been ignored or put on hold while DPI waited for the legal process to be completed. DPI, however, has the authority to act on a license at any time and has revoked licenses on lesser misconduct charges, officials said.
“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,” wrote Walker. “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.”