Community members are outraged after learning that a teacher at Indian Trail High School and Academy, Melvin Tart, is keeping his job after it was discovered that he sent inappropriate texts to a student. According to internal documents obtained by KCE, Tart was disciplined on January 20, 2023, after a two-day investigation of misconduct allegations.
A letter in Tart’s personnel file says in part:
“Mr. Tart, You are being issued disciplinary action …. for your actions …. An investigation was conducted by school administration at Indian Trail High School and Academy and reviewed by the Kenosha Unified School District Office of Human Resources. The investigation focused on your inappropriate interactions via text message with one of your students, “Mary.” Of most concern is the interaction with [Mary] in the form of continuous text exchanges between you and [her]. The tenor of the texts is inappropriate and are concerning. You share in your texts with [Mary], personal details about yourself, and divulge to [Mary] that you had a dream about [her] but tell [her] that you will have to save that until [she] gets out of ITA. During the course of my investigation, you shared that the dream you had about [her] was sexual in nature.”
According to records, Tart asked Mary for her cell phone number so that he could use her to babysit his child, but the investigation yielded no mention of babysitting.
“In accordance with the discipline process outlined in the KUSD Employee Handbook Section 7, you are being given this written reprimand for your actions involving Mary” the letter later states.
Tart was then directed by Kevin Neir, Interim Chief Human Resources Officer, to delete her email address and cell phone number from his phone and have no contact with Mary.
KCE was first tipped off to this incident in March. We then reached out to KUSD Chief Communications Officer Tanya Ruder. She told us: “On January 17, 2023, the district was made aware of allegations of misconduct and immediately launched an in-depth investigation. The individual was placed on paid leave January 18, 2023, and the investigation concluded on January 20, 2023. No additional details can be shared as this is a personnel matter.”
We then published an article on March 28, 2023. In this article we reported that “[Mr. Tart] was back at work.” We soon thereafter received another tip that Mr. Tart was in fact not back at school. We then followed up again with Ruder who told us: “I can confirm that Mr. Tart is an active employee with no access restrictions.”
KCE didn’t name Tart last month becuase we didn’t know if there was any misconduct found to have been committed. Tart, however, lawyered up. He hired Robert K. Weber, an attorney out of Racine, WI to send us a letter. The letter wrote, in part, “Mr. Mathewson, I am a staunch advocate for and supporter of the freedom of the press. I find your columns to be generally insightful and fair. I am also defamation and libel counsel to Mr. Melvin Tart. It is in the latter capacity that I am writing to caution you with regard to any future publication regarding Mr. Tart that features any misrepresentation, false claims or defamatory language …. [the file] which may concern a minor infraction of a school district teacher-student contact policy, but I am warning you that any misrepresentation of the facts will lead to immediate litigation.“
Attorney Weber then said that KCE is “on notice” of our ongoing obligation to preserve all documents, including from sources. Attorney Weber is semi-retired, so he may not have known about Wis. Stat. § 885.14(2)(a) that states:
(a) Prohibition. Except as provided in par. (b), no person having the power to issue a subpoena may issue a subpoena compelling a news person to testify about or produce or disclose any of the following that is obtained or prepared by the news person in the news person’s capacity in gathering, receiving, or preparing news or information for potential dissemination to the public:
1. The identity of a confidential source of any news or information.
2. Any information that would tend to identify the confidential source of any news or information.
3. Any news or information obtained or prepared in confidence by the news person.
KCE reached out to Kenosha Police today and Lt. Joe Nosalik told us that the department wasn’t notified of this conduct by KUSD administration based on a search he conducted. KCE spoke with the father of the girl and he expressed a great deal of disappointment in the district. He thinks Tart’s pattern of behavior is indicative of someone engaging in predatory behavior. The age of the girl is was 17 at the time of the texting.
We also reached out to KUSD Superintendent Jeff Weiss who had the ultimate authority to let Tart keep his job. Weiss, through a spokesman, said the district won’t be commenting on this matter. We reached out to members of the board of education, who also chose to keep their lips sealed. We did speak to Mr. Tart. We asked him if his student that he was texting was over 18 or not yet 18. He replied “talk to my lawyer” and hung up. We did reach out to his attorney, and he didn’t immediately respond to our phone message or email. His first letter to KCE, discussed above, was actually sent to the Kenosha News. We thank the Kenosha News for giving us the letter. KCE spoke to many community members today. Most believed that Tart should have been fired.