Porn-watching Wisconsin teacher apologizes to parents

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By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. — Acknowledging he “made a mistake” four years ago, the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District teacher fired — then reinstated by court order — for looking at pornography at school has penned a letter to the parents of his seventh-grade students apologizing for his actions.

“I know that many of you have concerns about my return to the classroom. Four years ago I made a mistake that showed a lack of judgment and forethought. I want you to know how sorry I am that I allowed this to occur,” wrote Andrew Harris in a letter titled, “Welcome Parents of Block 7R.”

MEA CULPA: Andrew Harris, the Wisconsin middle school teacher back in class after being fired for watching porn at school, has sent a letter to parents of his students apologizing for his “lack of judgment.”

“I also want to emphasize that no students were involved nor was my teaching affected. I am not defending my actions, but I want to assure you that my classroom will be a safe learning environment for your student.”

In 2010, the veteran science teacher was fired for viewing and sharing multiple pornographic and sexually explicit images and jokes — all at school. Following a complaint by a fellow teacher, the district launched an investigation that eventually led to the suspensions and reprimands of several teachers for viewing sexual content and other violations of the school system’s Acceptable Use Policy.

Harris’ union, the Middleton Education Association, cried foul, asserting that the teacher’s punishment was too harsh. An arbitrator agreed, ruling in 2012 that Middleton-Cross Plains had treated Harris unfairly and ordering the teacher be reinstated.

The district fought the arbitrator’s ruling, losing at the district court and state appeals court levels. Its legal remedies were exhausted last month when the Wisconsin Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

So Harris returned to the classroom last week, amid protest and outrage from parents and other community members. About 20 people protested Harris’ return to Kromrey Middle School. The arbitrator’s ruling also demands the district compensate Harris nearly $200,000 in back pay. All told, the district has spent nearly $1 million in the matter of Andrew Harris.

District spokesman Perry Hibner said four students in Harris’ class remain in a study hall, opting out of the educator’s science class. The district has placed a paraeducator in Harris’ class to assist him and allay parents’ concerns.

In his letter to parents, the disgraced teacher said he realizes he’s been “given a second chance” to do what he loves — “making science fun for students and showing them that doing science can be exciting and educational all at the same time.”

“I am grateful for this second chance and am hopeful that you will give me the opportunity to educate your student,” Harris wrote.

Meanwhile, state Department of Public Instruction Superintendent Tony Evers has yet to answer Gov. Scott Walker’s request issued a week ago that the agency revoke Harris’ teaching license. Hibner said the district has received no communication from DPI on the matter.

“The unfortunate part is there is no update,” the spokesman said.

Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said the same.

“To our knowledge, we have not received a response from Superintendent Evers on this issue,” Evenson said in an email. “This decision rests with Supt. Evers, and Governor Walker is urging him to review the matter and act.”

NO REPLY: State Superintendent Tony Evers has not responded to Gov. Scott Walker’s request urging the state Department of Public Instruction revoke Andrew Harris’ teaching license.

In his letter to Evers, the governor urged the superintendent to “act efficiently in your investigation into the actions of Mr. Harris and to initiate revocation proceedings.”

“The arbitration process afforded to Mr. Harris failed the school district and the students,” Walker wrote. “It has taken both a financial and emotional toll on the district.”

DPI spokesman Patrick Gasper confirmed that Evers hasn’t responded to the governor’s letter.

“That particular matter remains under investigation by the DPI, and as you are aware, state law prohibits the DPI from discussing further except to indicate that the matter is/remains under investigation,” Gasper wrote in an email to Wisconsin Reporter.

Contact M.D. Kittle at [email protected]

Andrew Harris’ letter to parents:

Welcome Parents of Block 7R,

My name is Andy Harris, and as you know I will be your son/daughter’s science teacher for the remainder of the 2013-2014 school year. I know that mid-year transitions can be difficult under the best of circumstances and I am sympathetic to the fact that this is not the case with this transition.

I want to first assure you that I am committed to doing everything possible to make this transition as smooth as possible for your student. To that end I will try to keep as many of Mr. Engel’s policies and classroom expectations the same. I, like Mr. Engel, have a great passion and enthusiasm for science. It is my belief that science should be a fun, hands on learning experience that teaches students how to DO science rather than teaching them how to memorize scientific facts. I have included a more detailed document on my teaching philosophy.

I know that many of you have concerns about my return to the classroom. Four years ago I made a mistake that showed a lack of judgment and forethought. I want you to know how sorry I am that I allowed this to occur. I also want to emphasize that no students were involved nor was my teaching affected. I am not defending my actions, but I want to assure you that my classroom will be a safe learning environment for your student. I have been given a second chance to do what I love- making science fun for students and showing them that doing science can be exciting and educational all at the same time. I am grateful for this second chance and am hopeful that you will give me the opportunity to educate your student.

I want to invite each and every one of you to call/email me with your concerns. I have an open door policy and am more than willing, to have you come and sit in on a class or simply to meet with me and discuss your concerns.

I have taught middle school science for 17 years, and I hope that as you talk to your son/daughter over the next several weeks you will get a sense of the excitement and learning that is happening in class.

Thank you,

Andy Harris

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