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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher September 13, 2018

Scott Walker misleads in claiming Tony Evers could have revoked teacher license in porn viewing case

It hasn’t reached the ubiquity  — yet — of advertising on NASCAR race cars.

But in the race for governor, advertising about a teacher viewing porn case is all over television.

There have been three ads on the case that we’ve checked attacking Tony Evers, the state schools superintendent and Democratic candidate for governor. Each were by the state Republican Party, with one dating back more than a year.

There also have been two TV ads on the case that we’ve checked from two groups defending Evers, who will face Republican Gov. Scott Walker in the Nov. 6, 2018, election.

Now comes another attack ad, this one from Walker, released Sept. 5, 2018. The narrator goes into lengthy detail, saying:

A teacher watched hard-core pornography in his classroom, showed obscene images to female coworkers, commented about the chest sizes of middle-school girls, suggested one struggling student should brush up on her sex skills because it's the only thing she'd ever be good at -- then intimidated the female teacher who complained. Tony Evers should have revoked the teacher's license, but he didn't, and the teacher is still in the classroom with young girls.

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We’ll break down the statement into two parts:

"A teacher watched hard-core pornography in his classroom," along with other inappropriate behavior, but Tony Evers didn't revoke the teacher's license and "the teacher is still in the classroom."

The case

Like the other ads, this one focuses on Andy Harris, a middle-school science teacher in the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District, west of Madison. He was fired in 2010 for viewing images and videos of nudity on his school computer and showing them to co-workers.

Harris got his job back after an arbitrator ruled he should have been given a suspension rather than be fired. Two courts, without ruling on whether the firing was illegal, concluded that the arbitrator was within her authority in making her decision.

The arbitrator based her decision in part on her determination that Harris’ behavior, given that students were not present when he viewed the images, did not endanger any students, as defined by state law.

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Now to what Walker’s ad claims about the teacher’s behavior.

What the teacher did

We’re relying on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel news reports on the case, the arbitrator’s report and the school district’s investigation of the case.

‘Watched hard-core pornography in classroom’: Correct, though "hard-core" might be debatable. Harris looked at pornographic material at school during the workday, via 23 emails sent by Harris' sister, that included pornographic photos, jokes and movies.

‘Showed obscene images to female co-workers’: Correct.

Commented about chest sizes, sex skills: Undetermined. In the school district’s investigation, an unidentified employee said Harris made the remarks. But the Department of Public Instruction, which Evers heads, said neither the arbitrator nor the department could determine whether Harris made the remarks.

‘Intimidated the female teacher who complained’: Correct. The teacher who complained said Harris could sometimes be intimidating. The district’s investigation found that emails Harris sent to the teacher "suggests retaliation," but Harris denied they were retaliatory.

So, the first part of Walker’s claim is partially accurate.

But the second part is more important, given that it contains the attack on Evers.

‘Didn't revoke, teacher still in classroom’

This part of the ad states — particularly in saying Evers should have revoked Harris’ license  — that even though the legal system returned the teacher to his job, Evers had the power to stop him from teaching.

But when Harris was fired, state law defined immoral conduct, according to the Legislature’s nonpartisan legal advisers, "as conduct or behavior that is contrary to commonly accepted moral or ethical standards and that endangers the health, safety, welfare, or education of any pupil."

And is the pivotal word.

Evers’ department did have the discretion on whether to go through license revocation proceedings, which Harris could have challenged. The department has said it decided against that course after concluding Harris’ behavior didn’t endanger kids, as defined by the law.

Walker, in effect, argues that Evers nevertheless should have tried revocation. But the lack of a legal basis to take away Harris’ license appears to be supported by the fact that in November 2011, nearly a year after Harris’ firing, Walker signed a bill, supported by Evers, that redefined immoral conduct to specify that what Harris did is legal cause for license revocation.

So, the second part of Walker’s statement is misleading in claiming that Evers could have revoked Harris’ license and simply didn’t.

(Before he was fired, Harris taught seventh-grade science at one of the district’s two middle schools; now he has the same job at the other.)

Our rating

Walker says: "A teacher watched hard-core pornography in his classroom," along with other inappropriate behavior, but Tony Evers didn't revoke the teacher's license and "the teacher is still in the classroom."

The first part of Walker’s statement, about the teacher’s behavior, is correct on two points; but on two other points, the validity of the allegations is unclear.

Meanwhile, the more important part of Walker’s statement is misleading in saying Evers could have and didn’t revoke the teacher’s license. There was a lack of legal basis for revocation at the time — made clear by the fact that Walkers and Evers backed a change in state law so that teachers can be fired for viewing pornography at school.

For a statement that contains only elements of truth, our rating is Mostly False.

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PolitiFact rating logo PolitiFact Rating:
Mostly False
"A teacher watched hard-core pornography in his classroom," along with other inappropriate behavior, but Tony Evers didn't revoke the teacher's license and "the teacher is still in the classroom."
In a TV ad
Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Our Sources

YouTube, Scott Walker campaign TV ad, Sept. 5, 2018

Interview, Scott Walker campaign spokesman Austin Altenburg, Sept. 13, 2018

Scott Walker campaign, Ad fact sheet, Sept. 5, 2018

Email, Tony Evers campaign spokesman Sam Lau, Sept. 12, 2018

Email, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction spokesman Tom McCarthy, Sept. 13, 2018

Arbitrator’s decision in Andrew Harris case, Feb. 28, 2012

School district investigation of Andrew Harris case, Feb. 8, 2010

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Hitting back, group defends Dem governor candidate Tony Evers in handling of teacher porn case," Aug. 29, 2018

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Yes, but: Explaining GOP's attack on governor candidate Tony Evers on not revoking teacher's license," Aug. 6, 2018

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Tony Evers and Scott Walker are fighting over a teacher who looked at porn at school — here's the rest of the story," Aug. 22, 2018

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Bice: GOP rips Tony Evers for not ousting porn-viewing teacher accused of sexually crude remarks," Nov. 2, 2017

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Wisconsin GOP mostly misfires in attack on governor candidate Tony Evers over school porn case," Sept. 8, 2017  

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Third attack ad vs. Tony Evers in teacher porn has some of the same problems," Aug. 16, 2018

Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District, Kromrey Middle School seventh-grade teachers, accessed Sept. 12, 2018

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Scott Walker misleads in claiming Tony Evers could have revoked teacher license in porn viewing case

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