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Wisconsin educators face tougher penalties under new state law

Since the creation of the national sex offender registry, communities are much more aware of residents with sexual crimes in their past. Registered sex offenders often struggle to find a good job, stable housing and the trust of people around them. A bill signed into state law last week greatly affects the professional careers of educators accused of viewing pornography.

This week Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed off on a law that makes the viewing of pornography on a school district computer reason to revoke a teacher's license. The law stems from a case in which a superintendent of a small eastern Wisconsin school district was charged with online solicitation of a minor. During the investigation, it was discovered he had been accused six years ago of viewing pornography at work.

In the 2005 case, city officials investigated him but chose not to revoke his teaching license. Records of the investigation were destroyed three years later in accordance with a state law that required this for cases in which no disciplinary action was taken. As a result, the allegations didn't show up on his background check when he applied for his new job. Under the new law, the Department of Public Instruction is required to keep the records.

The superintendent, who worked as a school athletics coordinator at the time of the 2005 allegations, was arrested in January. School board members and other officials of the district he headed said if they had known about the previous charge, they likely would not have hired him.

Another case that prompted the law involved a teacher accused in 2009 of downloading pornography. He was fired, but allowed to keep his teaching license.

Walker also signed a bill that requires all school workers to report any suspected child abuse; previously the law only applied to teachers, administrators and counselors. This means that anyone who works at the school, from janitors to part-time aides, could bring forth allegations without fear of being fired or disciplined. If you're accused of abuse by a school employee, or are an employee yourself accused of viewing pornography, you may want to first see an experienced defense attorney. In a school setting, the risks to your career and reputation are greater than ever before.

Source: Wisconsin Elections & Politics, "Walker signs bill allowing DPI to revoke licenses of educators who view porn at work," Scott Bauer, Nov. 23, 2011

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