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Middleton teacher’s reinstatement moves forward

Published On: Jan 21 2014 06:24:37 AM CST   Updated On: Jan 21 2014 01:48:04 PM CST

The pending reinstatement of a former teacher will cost the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District almost $1 million in legal fees and back pay. Dannika Lewis reports.

MIDDLETON, Wis. -

The pending reinstatement of a former teacher will cost the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District almost $1 million in legal fees and back pay.

In a special meeting Monday night, it was released that the district will owe Andrew Harris almost $200,000 in back pay.  That’s on top of more than $625,000 the district has spent to fight for its decision to fire Harris back in 2010.

Harris was a middle school science teacher at Glacier Creek Middle School until he was accused of sending and receiving explicit emails on the job.

Last week, the state supreme court refused to hear the case.  The arbitrators ruled it inappropriate to terminate Harris, and said he should be reinstated to his position and receive back pay.

Members of the board of education said the legal language allows them to offer Harris his old job or one similar to his former teaching position.

After a closed session meeting, board of education president Ellen Lindgren read a statement, simply saying the board would continue following the law and comply with the court’s and arbitrator’s rulings. 

Lindgren said the board has come up with a plan to reinstate Harris in some capacity, but would not go into detail about what position he could fill in the future.

“We remain committed to serving the best interest of our students and our families,” Lindgren concluded.

A handful of concerned parents waited outside the closed-door session to show their support for the board’s four-year battle with the legal system.

Holly VanGilder’s sons go to Glacier Creek, and she said no cost is too great to keep Harris out of the classroom.

“Just because our judicial system let us down, we want to keep fighting this,” VanGilder said.  “And we are going to find ways to be victorious.”

Parents in attendance said they would pull their students out of school before they were under Harris’s care.

“I won't allow my children to be in his classroom,” VanGilder said.

The board of education will meet with the teachers’ union Tuesday to move forward with the hiring process.

Middleton-Cross Plains superintendent Don Johnson said there have been no significant changes in technology surveillance, but the district’s policies on acceptable uses of the internet at work are even clearer about fireable offenses.

Johnson said parents can request their student be moved to another teacher’s classroom if there are major concerns or conflicts.  Those requests usually have to be submitted in writing to the school’s principal.  Johnson and Lindgren said they could not speculate how that policy might be affected when and if Harris returns to the district.

Under the court orders, Johnson said if Harris wanted his position back immediately, he could be back in a classroom by the end of January.

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