Teacher Porn Case Appealed to Wisconsin Supreme Court After Firing Ruled Unfair

Teacher apple pdMADISON — A case involving a Wisconsin teacher who admitted to viewing and sharing pornography on school district computers has been appealed to the state Supreme Court after it was ruled that the teacher’s firing was unfair.

Andrew Harris was a science teacher at Glacier Creek Middle School in Cross Plains until May 2010. In December 2009, he was placed on paid administrative leave after a fellow teacher lodged a complaint that Harris had showed her a photo of a naked woman.

An investigation then ensued, which revealed that Harris had not only been receiving and viewing porn at the middle school—in the form of nude photographs, videos of sex acts and other inappropriate material–for the past nine years, but he had also shared it with other teachers. A month after he was placed on administrative leave, the punishment was commuted to unpaid leave and in May of the following year, Harris was officially fired.

However, as the matter turned into a district-wide investigation, officials discovered that five other teachers had also been using district computers to view porn. Two of the teachers, Mike Duren and Gregg Cramer, were suspended, but have since retired.

When the Middleton Education Association (MEA) learned that Harris had been fired, but others were only suspended, they filed a complaint to challenge the punishment. The district contended that the pornography that Harris had viewed was grossly more perverse than those of other teachers, and that the punishment thus fit the crime. But the MEA asserted that the teachers who were suspended viewed porn that was just as egregious as, if not worse than, the material Harris shared.

“Why are you firing this one guy and nobody else?” MEA attorney William Haus told the Wisconsin State Journal. “Why is it OK to treat this guy like he’s some kind of child molester and everyone else can go back to the classroom? That’s what this is about.”

In February 2012, Arbitrator Karen Mawhinney ruled in favor of Harris, opining that the punishment was unfair and that the teacher should be allowed to return to the classroom. Dane County Circuit Court Judge C. William Foust upheld Mawhinney’s decision in August of last year.

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“The fact that he was discharged while others were suspended or received written reprimands or nothing at all, the discharge cannot stand,” Mawhinney wrote in her decision.

As a result, the district appealed again, but the District IV Court of Appeals also sided with the MEA and Harris. The courts ordered Harris’ termination to be reduced to a 15-day suspension, and that he receive back wages, which according to reports, now stand at $300,000. The district stated it was disappointed by the outcome of the case, and stood by the punishment imposed on Harris.

“Our decision to terminate Mr. Harris is a reflection of our community’s values and expectations of its educators. There clearly was a violation by Andrew Harris that was substantial, sustained and reckless over a period of nine years by his own admission,” Superintendent Don Johnson wrote in a statement following the appeals ruling. “The punishment should fit the offense and there is no place for any pornography—let alone the level Mr. Harris viewed—in our schools. The vast majority of parents in our district and throughout the state agree.”

Several area residents—all women—also attended the school district’s recent board meeting to urge officials to file an appeal with the Wisconsin Supreme Court. They expressed concern about the safety of children who attend public schools.

“I am usually very conservative in spending tax dollars, but this clearly is a time when we need to spend the money to protect our kids,” one parent stated, according to DaneWatch.

The Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District has now submitted a petition to the state Supreme Court, imploring the justices to hear the case, which could cost an additional $500,000 to fight. There is no guarantee that the court will accept the case, but some state that it is important that Harris’ termination stands.

“[It is] a legitimate concern for our parents that … someone would view this pornography and then have students streaming into the room immediately afterwards,” board president Ellen Lindgren told reporters.


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