Reality Check: Context needed in Republican Party ad against Evers over teacher conduct

Reality Check: Context needed in Republican Party ad against Evers over teacher conduct
Wisconsin GOP YouTube

An early attack ad in the race for governor focuses on how state Superintendent Tony Evers handled the license of a Middleton teacher.

The case of teacher Andrew Harris started back in 2010 and there are some things you should know about the timeline that show up in this ad from the Republican Party of Wisconsin.

“A teacher viewed and shared pornographic material at school,” the announcer says in the ad. “Tony Evers knew about it. The same teacher made sexual remarks about the bodies of middle school girls. Evers knew that too.”

News 3 finds this needs clarification.

Harris, a seventh-grade teacher, was fired from Glacier Creek Middle School in Middleton in 2010 after being accused of receiving and sharing explicit emails while at work in 2008 and 2009. Harris appealed his firing and in 2012 an arbitrator ruled he could go back to the classroom.

The district then asked the state Department of Public Instruction to revoke his license. That’s when Evers would have known about or been involved in policing this conduct. The Middleton-Cross Plains School District sent a full investigative report to the DPI that included allegations of Harris’ comments about students as they considered whether to revoke Harris’ license.

“Yet despite calls from parents and school officials, Tony Evers sided with the union and refused to revoke the teacher’s license,” the ad says.

News 3 finds this also needs clarification.

It’s true that Harris’ license was not revoked by DPI, but you should understand why.

In a letter to Harris, the DPI said his conduct did not fall under the definition of “immoral conduct,” which in 2009 when the incidents occurred was defined as “conduct contrary to commonly accepted moral or ethical standards and that endangers the health, safety, welfare or education of any pupil.” The DPI said the investigation determined that Harris’ conduct did not involve children and Evers said he was just following what the law said was required.

“Simple as that, I was following state law as a constitutional officer,” Evers said at a news conference Wednesday. “That’s what the people of Wisconsin expected of me as state superintendent.”

Because of this case, Evers worked on a change in the law that said viewing or distributing pornographic material is also considered immoral conduct. That law change happened in 2011 after Harris’ conduct, and the DPI determined the new law could not be applied retroactively.

Harris remains a teacher at Middleton’s Kromrey Middle School, where he was placed after his reinstatement.

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