Governor, Hacktivist Latest To Weigh In On Teacher 'Porn' Controversy

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By: 
John Donaldson

Because of weather cancellations on Monday and Tuesday of last week, teacher Andrew Harris did not actually start his new job teaching science at Kromrey Middle School until Wednesday morning. That didn’t stop a series of events surrounding his controversial return to the classroom from unfolding, however.

Four years ago Harris was fired for having opened e-mails containing adult images on his school computer. The ensuing investigation revealed other staffers had viewed adult images on school computers as well, but they received suspensions, and were not fired. At no time were any students exposed to any of the e-mails in question, school officials determined.

The local teachers’ union took Harris’ case to arbitration and won. Subsequent court appeals upheld the arbitrator’s decision, and last week, Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District officials finally agreed to abide by the ruling. Harris has been rehired.

This by no means has brought the matter to a close, however.

The latest of these events was the announcement Tuesday that Governor Scott Walker is asking Department of Public Instruction superintendent Tony Evers to revoke Harris’ teaching license.

“The arbitration process afforded to Mr. Harris failed the school district and the students,” wrote Walker in a letter to Evers. Walker, who effectively dismantled many teachers unions across the state with the passage of Act 10, added, “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.”

Walker did not request that the other teachers who received adult content in their emails have their licenses revoked.

Also this past week, the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District teachers’ union took down its Facebook® page after an anonymous person or persons posted a link that makes demands and promises consequences regarding the return of Harris to a Kromrey Middle School classroom.

The video, which depicts a disguised individual saying he represents a group called “Derpsec”, is protesting Harris’s return to the classroom. The narrator says Harris either should be fired permanently or, if Harris stays, parents should be allowed to take their children out of his class and Harris must pay the district $100,000 to be used for school supplies “and whatever is needed by the children.”

If one of these two things does not happen, says the person in the video, Derpsec will release photographs of board members and union officials, their personal telephone numbers and pictures of their homes and family members, “and much more.”

“We are not making threats,” the masked individual states, “but rather looking for a resourceful outcome. Failure to comply with this outcome will result in personal information being leaked to the public and those in the online world.”

The person in the video appears to be styled after a fictional masked revolutionary character who calls himself “V” in a film based on a graphic novel titled, V for Vendetta. Heath Ledger’s iconic Joker from the Christopher Nolan film “The Dark Knight,”  who served as the inspiration for mass shooter James Holmes in 2012, is also visible.

Harris on Wednesday morning offered no comment on recent events except to say he “is trying to focus on providing the best science learning environment for [the] students right now.”

Half of Derpsec’s second demand option has been met, at least for the time being. A school official on Friday said Harris is going into the classroom, but parents who don’t want their children in his class have been given the option of removing their students to a study hall. As of Monday there was apparently still some question as to whether these students would take any more science for the rest of the year, but district officials indicated the students would be allowed to advance to the next grade level.

District spokesperson Perry Hibner on Monday explained the district initially received about 100 communications from parents about the plan to have Harris teach at Kromrey. (There are about 125 seventh grade students in this particular teaching block.) After the district indicated a para-educator would be in the classroom with Harris, however, about 95 of the parents involved indicated they were okay with the arrangement.

At that point the district met individually with the five or so remaining families to work out another arrangement. Reportedly district superintendent Don Johnson, union president Chris Baumann and union attorney William Haus were going to meet sometime this week to finalize the particulars.

Harris four years ago admitted to viewing adult images contained in e-mails sent to his school computer by his sister. A subsequent investigation revealed a number of staffers had also received and opened e-mails containing adult images.

The Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District after its investigation decided to fire Harris, a union official who had on several occasions made statements critical of the district and its treatment of teachers, while the other staffers received suspensions.

Harris and union officials have consistently said they considered opening the e–mails on work computers wrong and deserving of discipline. The union officials, however, also said the discipline meted out to Harris was out of line when compared to the discipline given to the other teachers. The district, however, said Harris’s actions were more egregious.

 The Middleton Education Association (MEA), the local teachers’ union, made the case in arbitration that Harris had been treated unfairly because he had been fired while the other teachers were suspended and retained their jobs. The arbitrator ultimately agreed and ordered the district to give Harris his job back, with back pay.

After a series of court appeals costing district taxpayers over $600,000 failed to overturn the arbitrator’s ruling, the Wisconsin Supreme Court two weeks ago declined to review the case. At that point, the district gave up its legal effort, reluctantly agreed to hire Harris back to “a comparable job,” and to paying the teacher nearly $200,000 in back pay.

The board offered Harris the Kromrey job, and he accepted the position. Harris has indicated he wants to prove to the community that he is a good teacher. Last week and in prior writings to this newspaper, Harris said he understood why parents would be concerned about his return, given the publicity this case has received.

“It I were a parent in this situation, I would want to know what is going on,” he said last week.

When he was fired, Harris was a teacher at Glacier Creek Middle School in Cross Plains. A science teacher at Kromrey, Eric Engel, was currently poised to move to an administrative position, so Engel’s transition was moved up to make room for Harris.

Friday morning when Harris showed up at Kromrey to take part in a teacher work day, a number of parents were picketing at the school. Middleton police were on hand to keep an eye on things, but no incidents were reported. The police said they intended to continue monitoring the situation. Harris, meanwhile, worked that day with Engel to become familiar with the class and its curriculum.

The para-educator will be in the room with Harris for at least the next two weeks, and Engel will be available if Harris has any questions.

“We believe this will be beneficial to our students, who will now have a second resource available to them, and to those parents who have expressed concerns about having their child in a classroom with Mr. Harris,” said Johnson in a Jan. 24 e-mail sent to parents.

 

 

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