Crime and Courts: Middleton teacher accused of inappropriate emails wins case

2012-02-29T16:00:00Z 2012-05-22T17:49:48Z Crime and Courts: Middleton teacher accused of inappropriate emails wins caseSTEVEN ELBOW | The Capital Times | selbow@madison.com madison.com

An arbitrator has ruled in favor of a former Middleton teacher who was accused of viewing and sharing inappropriate, sometimes pornographic, material on the job.

The Middleton-Cross Plains School District has been fighting a grievance by Andrew Harris, a former seventh-grade science teacher at Glacier Creek Middle School in Cross Plains, for the past 22 months, at a cost of more than $300,000. He was represented by the Middleton Education Association, the district teachers union.

Harris was placed on paid leave in December, 2009, as the district investigated the case. The School Board voted to fire him in May 2010.

Those actions came after a colleague complained that Harris sometimes showed inappropriate images during team meetings, at least once displaying a pornographic picture as students passed near an open door.

An investigation by the district turned up numerous pornographic images, movies and off-color emails on Harris' computer.

In a statement, Middleton-Cross Plains Superintendent Donald Johnson said the district is "disappointed" by the ruling.

"This ruling completely minimizes conduct that cannot be tolerated," he said. "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 details of the arbitration have not been made public. Officials from the Middleton Education Association could not be immediately reached for comment.  

The investigation into Harris' conduct led to discipline for other staffers for inappropriate use of their computers, including five unpaid suspensions, one termination and two verbal warnings. One employee resigned.

Bob Weitzel, a counselor at Glacier Creek Middle School, says a lot of teachers are upset with the ruling.

“Unions are there to protect us, but at a point there are certain behaviors that just are beyond the pale,” says Weitzel. “And this time this is just one of those behaviors. And I think there are teachers who just don’t want to be tarred with that brush.”

Weitzel says he plans to put up a website called Middleton Teachers for Integrity that will give teachers the opportunity to protest the ruling by signing their names to a statement.

He says the statement will say, in effect, “that we disagree with the decision, that we feel that someone who does that to the profession has no business being in the profession.”

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