March 20, 2014

In Wisconsin, teachers with ‘immoral conduct’ issues often keep license

3-20-2014 Wisconsin:

MADISON, Wis. — Since taking over as leader of the state Department of Public Instruction in 2009, Tony Evers has allowed at least 13 teachers and principals to keep their Wisconsin teaching licenses after those employees lost their jobs due to “immoral conduct.”

At least three of those educators still work in public schools.

School district investigations into these employees found “immoral conduct” including sexual harassment, tampering with standardized tests, stealing private student data and having inappropriate relationships with children.

DPI has completed just 25 license reviews referred by school districts since 2009, according to records obtained exclusively by Wisconsin Reporter through an open records request. It’s unclear how many additional cases are now under investigation because DPI refuses to turn over those records to Wisconsin Reporter.

DPI ignored multiple interview requests from Wisconsin Reporter.

School administrators, however, say these kinds of investigations and referrals for license revocation are rare and made only after much deliberation.

“If we’re investing our time and money with the legal fees, then this is something substantial in our minds,” said Debra Hunt, superintendent of Valders School District.

In June 2012, the Valders School District requested a DPI license review for Tracie Wurm, former director of special education and school psychologist. A district investigation alleged Wurm had stolen “hundreds of electronic student files from the School District computer server.” The district wrote this was “unethical conduct which endangered the education of students.”

Hunt declined to elaborate on the charges, but said the fact the district made the request to DPI speaks for itself.

School administrators must report to DPI when a staff member is convicted of a crime against children or sexual assault. Administrators must also report suspected “immoral conduct” if they believe that conduct factored in the employee’s termination or resignation.

The state superintendent is given authority by state law to revoke a teacher’s license after a DPI investigation.

Evers decided Wurm should keep her license, and Wurm now works as a psychologist in the Reedsville school district.

DPI track record of teachers’ license reviews

Evers, since 2009, has revoked eight licenses because of sexual assault of children, possession of child pornography or soliciting sex from minors. He is required by law to do so.

Evers also revoked the licenses of two teachers who allegedly accessed pornography at school and one who allegedly used social media for inappropriate relationships with underage students. Police were involved in two of those instances, but criminal charges weren’t issued.

In another case, Evers didn’t revoke the license of former teacher Eugene Dennis, who died days after he was sentenced in a student sex case. That DPI investigation was open 15 months before Dennis died.

In instances where wrongdoing doesn’t result in criminal charges or police investigations, records show Evers tends to side with school staff.

He allowed former Janesville principal John Walczak, who was fired after being accused of sexual harassment that allegedly occurred during an 18-month period, to keep his license. ..Continued.. by Ryan Ekvall

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