Madison (WKOW) -- A former Middleton high school teacher kept his teaching license, despite Dane County social workers concluding he sexually abused a teenage student.
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction officials told 27 News Middleton-Cross Plains school district officials held back information from teacher licensing investigators on teacher William Curtin and hampered their investigation.
"It's frustrating," DPI Deputy Schools Superintendent Tony Evers said.
DPI legal counsel Sheri Pollock told 27 News Middleton school officials relied on statutes involving personnel records confidentiality to withhold even the name of the student, 17. Pollock said Wisconsin law does not authorize DPI to compel school officials to produce such information, even though DPI is solely responsible for teacher licensing.
"Our investigation requires we get the facts of what happened. And there isn't a mechanism in the law that allows us to force that issue."
In the fall of 2005, Middleton school officials suspended Curtin, both a teacher and girls golf coach, as they investigated accusations of misconduct by Curtin with the teen. Middleton police officials also investigated, as did workers with Dane County Human Services.
Police reports and other records show Curtin, 53, informally counseled the girl on family problems, allowed her dozens of unexcused class absences to help him with his teaching, and exchanged over one hundred e-mails with the student.
In a May 11, 2006 e-mail, Curtin wrote the student: "...if anything ever happened to you because of something that I did, well, I'd have a tough time living with myself."
After being barred by school officials from contacting the teenager, Curtin still e-mailed on June 27: "...I just wanted to tell you that I got a cell phone...My number is...Use it whenever you want. I miss you and am (always) thinking about you."
The girl told authorities Curtin frequently hugged her, almost always privately, and said the hugs became uncomfortably long, unwanted, and involved cradling her breasts.
DPI licensing records include documents from social workers with the Dane County Department of Human Services. In a e-mail dated Nov. 22, 2006, social worker Amy Nemmetz told a colleague, "...we substantiated sexual abuse against Teacher William Curtin."
County human services administrator Bob Lee told 27 News he could not comment on a specific child's case, but said a determination of abuse is based on a standard involving the preponderance of the evidence, and involves thorough investigation.
Middleton police reports show Officer Jerry Raffel felt Curtin's gifts to the teen, affection, and controlling behavior were tell tale signs. "I noted several behavior patterns which are consistent with those of a preferential child molester."
State records include notes which indicate Assistant Dane County District Attorney Mary Ellen Karst was prepared to criminally charge Curtin in connection with his actions with the girl, but was willing to hold off if Curtin resigned and permanently surrendered his teaching license. Records also show the teen did not want to be part of any criminal prosecution of Curtin. District Attorney Brian Blanchard has yet to respond to e-mails and a call on why Curtin's case was resolved without charges.
Curtin resigned, but refused to surrender his teaching license, with a school district official noting, "it was a matter of pride" for the long time teacher. School officials provided Curtin with a glowing letter of recommendation.
Pollock said DPI officials acted on the limited information they had, which did not include the extensive e-mail correspondence between teacher and student, in allowing Curtin to retain his license. Pollock said the finding of sexual abuse by Dane County Human Services was not sufficient alone to revoke Curtin's credential. Curtin's license is valid through the school year of 2009.
Pollock said Curtin's case was not the first time relevant personnel records on an accused teacher were held back from licensing officials, even though it does not happen often.
"It's crazy that DPI doesn't get all that information to make those decisions," said Rep. Scott Newcomer (R-Hartland), vice chairman of the assembly education committee. Newcomer said he would pursue changes in the law, as long as teachers were protected against privacy invasion and unfounded accusations. Committee chair Rep. Brett Davis (R-Oregon) told 27 News he was concerned about the potential scope of the secrecy.
"You can bet there are other cases in our 426 school districts that are going on, that we're not catching. We have an obligation to look at this system and review it."
Pollock said recent changes in the law dealing with notifying subjects of records requests should make it easier to entitle DPI to access personnel files, while providing school officials assurance the releases will not result in lawsuits.
Middleton-Cross Plains school district counsel Jon Anderson said school officials offered to meet with state officials and discuss the Curtin investigation, but the offer was declined. State records also indicate DPI's licensing investigator was content with having the student's name withheld, and may not have reviewed police reports. Pollock said the state's investigation was sound.
There's no record of Curtin obtaining another teaching job, although Curtin served as a youth golf instructor this year at a Middleton course. Curtin has not responded to e-mails, phone calls, or visits to his home from 27 News.