UPDATE: Andrew Harris attorney not surprised by DPI decision
Apr 17, 2014 05:03 PM
MADISON (WKOW) -- The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction(DPI) will not attempt to revoke Middleton middle school teacher Andrew Harris's teaching license.
The DPI has sent Harris a letter informing him of its decision.
Harris was fired in 2010 for looking at explicit images on a school computer. The firing was ultimately ruled unjust after a lengthy legal process.
Harris was one of seven district employees found to have committed similar offenses. He was the only district worker terminated by the school board as a result
Harris appealed the firing and an arbitrator ruled in 2012 that the district should have instead suspended him for two weeks.
The school district appealed, but the arbitrator's decision was upheld in both circuit and appellate court. The Wisconsin Supreme Court earlier this year declined to take the case, validating the ruling as final.
The district spent between $900-thousand and $1-million on the case.
The DPI letter obtained by WKOW on Thursday states the state will not seek to revoke Harris's license despite calls from various citizens, and even Governor Scott Walker, to do so.
"The arbitration process afforded to Mr. Harris failed the school district and the students," Gov. Walker wrote in a letter to State Superintendent Tony Evers.
"The only thing (the DPI) can do is say, 'we think his license can be taken away,' and then give him a due process hearing," said Harris's attorney William Haus.
Haus said the DPI's decision to not pursue such a hearing was welcome news.
"It's time to be done with this," he said by phone Thursday. "(Harris) has been back in the classroom for months and everything's been fine." Harris, who previously worked as a seventh grade science teacher at Glacier Creek Middle School was re-assigned to a new post this year at Kromrey Middle School. His first day teaching students was January 27.
The DPI calls Harris's conduct inappropriate but points out state law in effect at the time of the inappropriate conduct in 2008 and 2009 does not mandate revocation of Harris's teaching license as a penalty.
The letter also states Harris's conduct would have risen to revocation level under a law later passed in 2011.
Haus pointed out that laws can't be applied retroactively to penalties that previously occurred.
Below is the full explanation the DPI gave WKOW for its decision not to seek the revocation of Harris' license: The Department completed its investigation into allegations that Andrew Harris engaged in immoral conduct (attached is the letter). In completing its investigation, the Department reviewed the entire record of this matter, including: the school district’s investigation; the arbitration hearing transcript and exhibits; and the circuit court, Court of Appeals, and Supreme Court briefs and decisions.
The Department also asked the district to provide any additional information it had that might have a bearing on the Department’s investigation. The conduct at issue occurred in 2008 and 2009. As a result, the Department is required to apply the definition of immoral conduct contained in the 2008-09 Wisconsin Statutes. In order to revoke a teaching license under the 2008-09 law, the Department must prove that the conduct is (1) contrary to commonly accepted moral or ethical standards and (2) endangers the health, safety, welfare or education of any pupil.
By passing 2011 Act 84, the Legislature amended the definition of immoral conduct to include “the intentional use of an educational agency’s equipment to download, view, solicit, seek, display, or distribute pornographic material.” However, the Department is legally prohibited from retroactively applying this new definition to Andrew Harris because his conduct occurred before the Legislature passed 2011 Act 84.
While Andrew Harris’s conduct was highly inappropriate for an educator, it does not meet the legal definition of immoral conduct contained in the 2008-09 law.
Specifically, the Department’s investigation confirmed the school district’s public statements that Andrew Harris’s conduct did not involve children in any manner. Similarly, the arbitrator who oversaw 18 days of hearings on this matter also determined that no students were involved and that no students could have seen the images. The arbitrator’s decision was upheld by the circuit court and Wisconsin Court of Appeals. Therefore, there is no probable cause that Andrew Harris violated the 2008-09 law, and the Department cannot pursue a revocation of Andrew Harris’s license at this time.
If the Department receives new, credible evidence that Andrew Harris’s conduct endangered any pupil, the Department will carefully review that evidence to determine whether license revocation proceedings are warranted. Finally, the Department is confident that the Legislature prevented this type of situation from occurring in the future by passing 2011 Act 84, an action we supported.
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