More Licensing Revocation Questions for Evers’ DPI

Two educators who were referred to the State Department of Public Instruction for possible license revocation under a 2011 immoral conduct law were allowed by DPI to remain licensed, Media Trackers has learned.  The incidents involve a Bloomer special education substitute teacher in 2017 and a Kenosha School District administrator in 2016. DPI is led by Democratic gubernatorial front runner Tony Evers. They are the latest decisions on licensing by the Evers-led DPI to come under scrutiny.

Republicans have harshly criticized Evers for a 2009 decision not to revoke the license of Middleton teacher Andrew Harris after he was caught viewing pornography at school. Evers has argued that a “loophole” in the law at the time didn’t allow DPI to revoke Harris’ license. In fact, the Harris case was the impetus for the passage of the 2011 immoral conduct law. The new cases in question took place after the passage of that law. Yet both educators were allowed to keep their teaching licenses. And one of the men would later be fired from an Illinois school district for sexual harassment.

Ronald Thompson

According to documents received by the Republican Party of Wisconsin in an open records request,  a substitute special education teacher in the Bloomer school district was accused of misconduct in April 2017. The district notified DPI against teacher Ronald Thompson and requested his license be revoked under the 2011 immoral conduct law.

A Bloomer school district investigation determined that Thompson:

  1. Asked special education students if they were able to view pornography on their cell phones while at school and tried to get them to bring up pornography on their phones.
  2. Made sexually explicit and derogatory comments about female high school students – telling students “there are a lot of hot girls here” and that he had seen some “lookers” down in the school gym.
  3. Asking students to log into their computers for him so he could use their student accounts immediately after asking the students if they could view porn at school.
  4. Being found in a classroom with his pants down by a fellow teacher.
  5. Leaving special education students unsupervised so he could leave school to go drink
  6. Discussing alcohol consumption with underage students and telling students about his plans to engage in heavy drinking
  7. Telling students this is the only district he is allowed to substitute in, but since “Bloomer is full of perverts anyways, he could sub here.”
  8. Telling students not to “snitch” on him to the school principal.

Thompson was fired three days later and the district presented its findings to the DPI with a recommendation that Thompson’s license be revoked.

The district provided the DPI with statements from three students concerning the allegations above.

Other allegations from the district’s investigation included another teacher describing an incident where she discovered Thompson in a classroom with his pants fully undone.  They described leaving and entering the room several times without Thompson noticing. She finally entered after he had finished buttoning his pants.  

Media Trackers reached out to DPI spokesman Thomas McCarthy for comment on Thompson’s case. McCarthy initially told us:

We placed Ron Thompson under investigation when we received Bloomer’s referral. When we interviewed other people in the district, the allegations fell apart. It turns out that Mr. Thompson scolded students who look at inappropriate images on a phone, overheard the students use the term “honkers,” and made a comment about how they had better be talking about Canadian geese. The rest of the allegations contained in the district’s investigation were also refuted.

But the only supporting document McCarthy provided for this refutation was a handwritten letter from Thompson denying the allegations. McCarthy’s characterization of events is included in Thompson’s denial letter.  We then asked McCarthy if he could provide any documentation beyond Thompson’s denial. McCarthy then sent us the DPI case review, which found no probable cause to revoke Thompson’s teaching license.

The DPI investigator reported that information provided by the district supported Thompson’s version of events. Specifically:

  •  A staff member said she had assumed Thompson was referring to alcohol when he said “Canadian Honkers.” The investigator said that instead, as reported by students and confirmed by Thompson, it was in reference to students look at their phones and commenting on “honkers,” to which Thompson replied: “you better be talking about Canadian Honkers.”
  • The investigator couldn’t confirm Thompson left early and left the classroom unattended, as alleged. A staff member informed the investigator that there were two special education classes that may have been separated toward the end of the day and the person who reported Thompson leaving early may have been unaware that he was with the second class.
  • Regarding allegations that Thompson made inappropriate comments about talk show host Bill O’Reilly, the investigator said Thompson admitted to having a discussion with a teacher, but denied discussing O’Reilly with students.
  • The investigation found no evidence of inappropriate use of district computers by Thompson
  • Thompson denied making inappropriate comments about female students and the substitute teaching with Thompson didn’t recall such a comment.

The investigation concluded that the evidence did not support the district’s conclusions about Thompson’s behavior.

McCarthy did not provide records of interviews with students or records of interviews with anyone, for that matter. The students were the only people who allegedly heard his comments and were the ones who claimed Thompson asked them to look up porn on his phone.

Dr. Floyd Williams Jr.

Williams, an administrator in the Kenosha School District, was forced to resign in late 2015 after an investigation determined that Williams had kept pornographic material on his school computer, took photos of another teacher without permission, made inappropriate comments to his assistant, and directed her to perform personal tasks for him and his family.  As was the case with Thompson, DPI chose not to revoke Williams teaching license

Williams later obtained an Illinois teaching license through a reciprocity agreement and was hired a few months later as Superintendent for the Des Plaines School District. A short time later Williams was  forced to resign  from that job after after several employees accused him of sexual harassment.

The following comes from a combination of media reports and the RPW open records request.

After receiving complaints in April 2015, a Kenosha School District investigation determined Williams redacted information about a complaint from a report issued to the Superintendent, had his assistant perform personal tasks for Williams and his family and made inappropriate comments to the assistant. The district put Williams on a Professional Improvement Plan, or PIP.

Williams was then the subject of a second investigation in September 2015. A staff member accused Williams of photographing her at an office party. The employee said Williams did not stop taking photographs when she asked him to and wouldn’t explain why he was photographing her. The employee told investigators Williams’ actions made her uncomfortable and she considered the behavior harassment.

According to the investigation, Williams later admitted to taking the photos.

As a result of these allegations, Williams was put on administrative leave in October of 2015. That meant he would have to surrender his school-issued computer. After receiving the computer the district found what it considered to be pornographic material.

In October 2015, the Kenosha School District placed teacher Floyd Williams on administrative leave, pending the outcome of a district investigation into Williams. As part of the leave procedure, Williams was required to return his school computer to the District. Upon reviewing Williams’ computer, the District discovered numerous pornographic images on Williams hard drive, including one where Williams could be seen in the mirror taking the photo. The district was preparing to terminate Williams’ employment when he resigned.

Kenosha Schools Superintendnet Sue Savaglio-Jarvis informed DPI that Williams had violated the 2011 immoral conduct law by downloading the material on the school-owned device. DPI ruled against revoking Williams license. Shortly after, he was hired as Superintendent in Des Plaines, Illinois Schools. A reciprocity agreement with Wisconsin meant Williams could obtain a teaching license in Illinois.

Within a year, five female employees would accuse Williams of sexual harassment. He later reached a separation agreement with the district.

In responding to the Williams case, DPI spokesman McCarthy initially emailed Media Trackers the following:

We also placed Floyd Williams under investigation upon receiving his file from Kenosha. Mr. Williams had turned in a work computer that contained inappropriate images. He had inadvertently synced his iCloud account and did not realize the images were migrated onto that machine. The immoral conduct law has a test of intentionality and this occurrence does not meet that standard.

McCarthy initially provided only one document refuting the allegations against Williams: a letter from Williams’ attorney. McCarthy, at our request, later provided the case review for the Williams investigation. It found:

There is no evidence that the pictures were intentionally downloaded to the district-issued device. Rather, the pictures were taken and viewed using Williams’ personal iPhone. Because of this, the iPhoto library automatically synced the images between Williams’ Apple devices, including the district-issued MacBook Pro.

The DPI determined license revocation wasn’t possible or appropriate because it couldn’t establish Williams intentionally downloaded the questionable material and that there was no evidence to dispute Williams’ defense. Also, the DPI did not consider the pictures pornographic. One picture showed Williams’ wife bare bottom.

The summary McCarthy provided doesn’t address the fact that it appears there were inappropriate images on Williams school district-issued computer for two and a half years; a seemingly relevant fact if Williams’ contention is they were there by accident. The summary also doesn’t cover any of the other behavioral issues with Williams which seem relevant in light of the allegations against him in Illinois.

Republican Party of Wisconsin spokesman Alec Zimmerman issued a statement to Media Trackers on the revelations:

“This demonstrates a pattern of Tony Evers failing to act when teachers were watching pornography, spreading it with students present, or engaging in other disgusting conduct — despite school districts pleading for his help and the Legislature further reinforcing his authority to deal with this behavior. Time and again Evers sides with union bosses over the safety of our children.”