Still no decision from DPI on porn-watching teacher’s license

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. — Perhaps the state Department of Public Instruction has pulled a page from the book of John Doe investigators.

DPI’s investigation into a porn-watching middle school teacher sure seems as “ongoing” as the Democrat-led Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office probe into Wisconsin conservatives.

Some three months after the legal challenges ended over the reinstatement of Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District science teacher Andrew Harris, DPI’s review of Harris’ education license goes on — and on.

“… (T)he licensure status of the educator you referenced remains under investigation by the DPI,” agency spokeswoman Debra Bougie said in an email response to Wisconsin Reporter.

STILL INVESTIGATING: Nearly four years after launching a review of the license of a Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District fired for looking at pornography at school, the state Department of Public Instruction has yet to conclude the investigation.

As a DPI spokesman did in February, Bougie pointed to state statute, saying the agency is required to keep all details of any pending investigation confidential.

The investigation into Harris has been “pending” for nearly four years.

The district fired Harris in 2010 after another teacher filed a complaint claiming Harris showed her pornographic images at Glacier Creek Middle School. Administrators launched an investigation that found Harris received scores of pornographic images, videos and inappropriate jokes on his school email account and viewed them at work.

Harris’ labor union filed a grievance asking that he be reinstated. An arbitrator, Karen Mawhinney, agreed with the union. She ordered the district to reinstate Harris to a similar position and pay him nearly $200,000 in back pay. A district court and a state court of appeals agreed and ordered the district follow the arbitrator’s decision.

The state Supreme Court in early January declined to review the case.

Harris was subsequently reinstated and assigned to the district’s Kromrey Middle School, where he resumed teaching science in February despite protests from some parents and others in the community.

DPI had said that it would wait for the lengthy legal process to be resolved before coming to a decision on Harris’ license.

In late January, Gov. Scott Walker sent a letter to DPI’s top executive, state Superintendent Tony Evers, asking the agency to revoke Harris’ license.

“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.

Bougie did not say whether Evers has responded to the governor’s letter. Evers had not as of Feb. 20.

Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said the governor’s office is “still working with DPI to address this issue. We have no additional information to provide at this time.” Patrick did not say whether Evers has responded to Walker’s letter.

Coincidentally, Walker made an appearance Wednesday morning at an elementary school in Middleton-Cross Plains to talk about state government.

Perry Hibner, Middleton-Cross Plains spokesman, said he hasn’t heard anything from DPI about the status of the investigation. He said the district is moving on after a costly legal battle defending its decision to fire Harris and discipline several other district employees for looking at sexual content and other prohibited material on school computers. The district has spent nearly $1 million on the case, including $200,000 in arbitrator-ordered back pay to Harris.

“It appears the fury that existed in January and February has died down,” Hibner said.

Three students in Harris’ new science class are taking the course online, but Hibner said no other parents have asked to remove their children from the classroom.

“I’ve had two people contacting me since then asking if there is anything more the district can do,” Hibner said.

The answer is no.

The matter is entirely in DPI’s hands.

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

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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