Parents React To Decision Reinstating Teacher

Parents in the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District are reacting to an arbitrator’s decision to reinstate a teacher who was fired two years ago over emails that allegedly contained pornographic material.

The school district said it dismissed teacher Andrew Harris for viewing and forwarding pornographic material on his work email.

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.

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.

Lisa Cole, who has a child attending Glacier Creek Middle School, said the arbitrator’s ruling in concerning.

“You mean to tell me the person that had (porn) on their computer in my child’s school gets to come back to work?” said Cole. “And I get to pay him again?”

Under the ruling, Harris would also receive back pay for benefits and wages lost.

“What he did was wrong,” said parent Missy Osborne. “Anybody would know that was wrong, and no, he should not be getting back pay for that. He should not be allowed to be a teacher again.”

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

“All I know is, if you or I in our jobs had that on our computer, we’d be fired,” said Cole. “There would be no hiring us back. And the fact that that’s in my child’s school. I don’t want him near my kid.”

The Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District said it has already spent nearly $400,000 on the arbitration case.

Many of the parents said they are concerned that the money isn’t going directly to specifically advance their children’s education.

An attorney for the Middleton Education Association said that overall the group believes the arbitrator was right, and that it does not condone Harris’ conduct. The attorney said the district’s email policy needs clarification, and the district should have applied punishment equally.

In 2010, five other teachers received unpaid suspensions, one substitute teacher was dismissed and a veteran administrator resigned following a district-wide investigation.

The Board of Education has scheduled a meeting on Monday 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.