Arbitrator Sides With Union After Middleton Teacher Dismissed For Porn Emails

Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District officials said Wednesday that they are disappointed with an arbitrator’s ruling in the case of a teacher who was fired two years ago over emails that allegedly contained pornographic material.

A district official said they feel the ruling condones the viewing of pornography and other adult content on school equipment.

The teacher, Andrew Harris, was placed on administrative leave from his job as a science teacher at Glacier Creek Middle School in Cross Plains in December 2009 after the school district found he received 23 inappropriate emails.

He was placed on unpaid leave a month later and formally dismissed by the Board of Education on May 3, 2010. Five other teachers received unpaid suspensions, one substitute teacher was dismissed and a veteran administrator resigned following a district-wide investigation.

The arbitrator ruled that Harris’ dismissal should be vacated and replaced with a 15-day suspension. Under the ruling, Harris would be reinstated and given his old job back or an equivalent one. He would also receive back pay for benefits and wages lost.

Two of the other teachers involved settled their cases on their own with the district. Two others also had their suspensions vacated by the arbitrator. However, the arbitrator didn’t rule in favor of the the fifth teacher involved.

It’s not clear whether Harris will return to a classroom, as the district has the option to appeal the arbitrator’s decision.

The Board of Education has scheduled a meeting on Monday at 6:30 p.m. to consider options that include an appeal that would be heard in Dane County Circuit Court. Another option would be to set a timeline for negotiating a settlement with the parties involved, according to district officials.

“The Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District is disappointed by the ruling from the arbitrator,” said Superintendent Don Johnson in a statement. “This ruling completely minimizes conduct that cannot be tolerated. 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.”

Attorney Willie Haus, who represents the Middleton Education Association, said he disagrees with the superintendent’s assessment. Haus said the arbitrator’s ruling doesn’t condone what happened and said the teachers deserved to be disciplined.

“That statement is extreme. It’s unreasonable; it’s damaging to the process, and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to call that worse than a distortion,” Haus said.

District spokesman Perry Hibner said the district has already spent about $370,000 on the case, not including the hours staff worked preparing documents.

Hibner said district officials believe any additional costs will be covered by the district’s insurance company.