MIDDLETON — A Middleton teacher fired in 2010 for looking at pornographic images while at work will be offered reinstatement.
The Middleton-Cross Plains School Board voted to comply with an arbitrator’s order to reinstate Andrew Harris, a Glacier Creek Middle School teacher, at a special closed session board meeting Monday.
The School Board declined to release any details of the reinstatement plan for Harris until after a Tuesday meeting, where the district will present the plan to the Middleton Education Association.
Perry Hibner, a spokesman for the district, said he expects the union’s representatives will relay the plan to Harris but added that the board was unsure whether Harris planned to return to work for the district.
The board’s vote comes after the Wisconsin Supreme Court declined last week to take up the board’s appeal of an arbitrator’s 2010 ruling to reinstate the teacher. Subsequent circuit and appellate court decisions upheld that ruling.
Harris and now-retired teachers Mike Duren and Gregg Cramer were part of a grievance the MEA filed on behalf of seven district employees after a 2009 investigation revealed the employees had viewed or shared pornographic or sexually inappropriate images, jokes or videos on district computers. Harris was terminated, while the rest received suspensions ranging from three to 15 days or reprimands.
A complaint by a female teacher whom Harris had shown an image of a nude woman prompted the investigation, which determined 23 emails Harris received from his sister over several years violated the district’s acceptable use policy.
A subsequent districtwide investigation found other teachers viewed or shared inappropriate content.
The district maintains the content Harris viewed was more inappropriate than that seen by others. MEA attorney William Haus has said the content viewed by others was the same or worse in some cases.
The arbitrator ruled the district’s termination of Harris’ employment was overreaching because a district investigation found other employees were “doing the same or similar types of things — viewing pornographic materials in various ways, receiving inappropriate emails, forwarding them to others, failing to discourage the senders, attempting to or in fact accessing inappropriate websites.
“The fact that he was discharged while others were suspended or received written reprimands or nothing at all, the discharge cannot stand,” the arbitrator wrote in the ruling, ordering Harris be given a 15-day suspension instead.
The district could have settled with Harris for around $20,000 just after district officials learned of the situation in 2010, or for $400,000 in 2012 after the arbitrator’s ruling. In October, the district declined because part of the settlement included a letter of reference for Harris, Hibner said.
Instead, the district will incur about $932,000 in legal costs and back pay to Harris and the two retired teachers named in the grievance, Hibner said.
State Journal reporter Jeff Glaze contributed to this report.