School official charged with soliciting sex from a minor had been investigated by DPIThe New Holstein schools superintendent charged this week with soliciting sex online from a minor resigned as athletics coordinator from the Madison School District in 2005 after viewing pornography on his work computer.
By: By Matthew Defour, The Wisconsin State Journal, Superior Telegram
The New Holstein schools superintendent charged this week with soliciting sex online from a minor resigned as athletics coordinator from the Madison School District in 2005 after viewing pornography on his work computer.
The Department of Public Instruction investigated Christopher J. Nelson in 2005 after Madison officials brought the matter to its attention. But the agency did not find reason to revoke his teaching license, and records of the investigation were destroyed in 2008, DPI spokesman Patrick Gasper said Wednesday.
New Holstein School Board President Oscar Beilke, who learned about the 2005 investigation from a State Journal reporter Wednesday, said officials contacted the Madison district and weren't told that he had viewed porn on his work computer. Knowledge of the allegation "absolutely" would have affected the decision to hire Nelson in 2009, he said.
"All the information we had obtained through background investigation, we did not see any signs of something like this," Beilke said. "If we would have seen any red flags we would have questioned him. I guess I'm surprised that that didn't turn up."
Madison schools spokesman Ken Syke declined to comment before the district reviewed records on Nelson, which were being retrieved Wednesday.
Nelson, 58, remains in the Milwaukee County jail on $20,000 cash bond. A court hearing is scheduled for Monday. He was arrested Jan. 19 after posting a "men seeking men" ad on craigslist and chatting with a police officer posing as a 15-year-old boy online, according to a criminal complaint.
Nelson, whose salary and benefits in 2010 totaled $140,000, has requested a public defender, according to court records, but one has not been assigned.
DPI has now opened a new investigation into whether to revoke Nelson's license, Gasper said.
Online records and other evidence related to the 2005 investigation were expunged in 2008 in accordance with state law that requires their removal after three years if no discipline is taken, although DPI knows an inquiry took place, Gasper said.
Madison Schools questioned
Former Madison School Board member Ruth Robarts confirmed that the School Board was told some time after Nelson left the district on Feb. 28, 2005, that he had viewed pornography at work.
Nelson resigned, citing personal health reasons, according to State Journal archives. Syke said the district contacted DPI in early March 2005.
Robarts took issue with how former superintendent Art Rainwater provided information on Nelson's departure, which she said should have been disclosed sooner.
"The fact that it gets swept into 'health problems' makes it difficult for another employer," Robarts said. "Ideally, with things that serious ... they ought not to disappear and pop up in a different district."
Rainwater said the case "was handled appropriately."
The School Board typically gets involved when the district presents a case for termination, Rainwater said. He said if Nelson's conduct had involved child pornography, it would have been handled through the police department, which it wasn't. Gasper confirmed the 2005 investigation did not involve child pornography.
DPI reporting requirement
Districts are required to report to DPI teachers and administrators who commit certain crimes or if "the person resigns and the administrator has a reasonable suspicion that the resignation relates to the person having engaged in immoral conduct."
Immoral conduct is defined as "conduct or behavior that is contrary to the commonly accepted moral or ethical standards and that endangers the health, safety and welfare of any pupil."
Gasper said Nelson's conduct didn't meet that standard based on evidence provided by the district. The state can revoke a teaching license for incompetence or immoral conduct.
Nelson got his start in education in the Randolph School District, where he spent 16 years as a teacher and high school principal, Superintendent Greg Peyer said. He was athletic director in Beaver Dam from 1994 to 2000, when Madison hired him.
He became principal of Parkview High School in Rock County on July 1, 2005. District administrator Steve Lutzke said he didn't know if his predecessor, who hired Nelson, was aware of the DPI investigation.
Nelson left Parkview in 2007 to become superintendent of the Weyerhaeuser school district north of Eau Claire. Weyerhaeser later consolidated with the Chetek school district, which caused Nelson to leave for New Holstein, Superintendent Al Brown said.
Copyright (c) 2011, The Wisconsin State Journal/Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.