By Shereen Siewert
A former Mosinee Middle School teacher who is suing a 12-year-old student, the school district and the Mosinee Police Chief was already notified her contract would not be renewed and faced multiple prior disciplinary actions before accusations of sexual misconduct arose, school personnel records show.
Christy Mathis, in a federal lawsuit filed Jan. 27, alleges she was the victim of lies and malicious prosecution that led to her dismissal as an art teacher at Mosinee Elementary School. But files obtained by Wausau Pilot & Review through an open records request show district officials had already approved a preliminary notice of non-renewal for Mathis on March 16, 2021, nine days before the student made her accusations.
In a federal complaint, Mathis said child sex charges filed against her in Marathon County Circuit Court were the result of a “shoddy investigation” and a scheme by the child and her friends who were angry with Mathis for enforcing the school’s cell phone policy. The girl’s accusation was initially backed up by two of her friends — but when they returned from spring break, several classmates contacted the investigating police officer and said that the allegation was untrue, Mathis said.
On April 5, 2021 Mathis was arrested by Mosinee Police officer Krause and charged with first-degree child sexual assault and was placed on administrative leave two days later. Mathis’ employment was terminated on July 12, 2021 by the Mosinee School Board. Then, the charges were dismissed.
But Superintendent David Muñoz said Mathis’ non-renewal was unrelated to the criminal charges and instead were the result of years of performance issues that, despite multiple improvement plans, were never resolved.
Muñoz, School Board President Kevin Hermening, Middle School Principal Brad Grube, the city of Mosinee, Mosinee Police Chief Kenneth Grams, Officer Eric Krause and the child’s parents are all personally named in the lawsuit.
Indicators of concern
Disciplinary action for Mathis spanned several years and involved multiple district officials, personnel documents show.
In December 2016, Mathis was placed on a plan of improvement after concerns that arose “during an investigation…that ultimately led to a three-day unpaid suspension,” according to a memo from then-Mosinee Middle School Principal Josh Sween. The memo specifically points to statements Mathis allegedly made regarding illegal drug use, along with concerns raised by parents and students who accused Mathis of suggesting “inappropriate websites” for students to search on their personal devices.
Mathis was advised to refrain from discussing student academic performance, behavior or social interactions and establish social media protocols that would keep her from interacting unprofessionally with students. As a result, the District required biweekly meetings for four months to provide guidance, support and training to help Mathis improve.
Then in January 2019, another plan of improvement was put forward after Principal Sween said five conversations about Mathis’ alleged lack of professionalism did not produce positive changes to her performance. The 2019 memo points to student and parent concerns about Mathis’ professionalism, along with “erratic behavior,” issues related to grading students and a failure to record student grades as required. Sween set out additional performance expectations and again required biweekly meetings to provide guidance for Mathis’ success as a teacher.
Even after the 2019 performance plan concerns mounted, this time with Principal Brad Grube. Emails contained in Mathis’ personnel file show Grube again pointed out Mathis’ repeated failure to enter grades for students as required, along with concerns over “behavioral management.”
“I have had parents and students reach out to me telling me that their students to not want to go to art because of the environment,” Grube wrote.
As a result, on Feb. 11, 2020, Grube placed Mathis once again on a plan of improvement after seven unsuccessful conversations about Mathis’ professionalism. Grube listed several concerns including lack of classroom organization that impacted student safety and fire code regulation, lack of contact with parents of failing students, lack of grade book entries and classroom management issues. This time, Mathis was advised to attend weekly meetings from Feb. 17, 2020 to March 10, 2020.
Then, COVID-19 hit, and schools statewide were shut down for the academic school year. That, Mathis alleges, contributed to the decline in her performance, as did difficulties dealing with supervisors and other school officials.
In a June 11, 2021 email to Kirk Strang, an attorney for the Mosinee School Board, Mathis said she had “no disciplinary issues whatsoever” for 20 years. In her letter, sent in response to the April 9 certified letter of nonrenewal, Mathis blamed Principal Sween’s “rigid, military background” for her issues and said she worked hard to correct them. But then, Mathis wrote, she began to struggle with an increased class size that overloaded the classes beyond capacity. That, combined with the additional struggles of teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic, proved difficult, she said.
“The first 20 years of my teaching career in Mosinee were great, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world,” Mathis wrote. “The same cannot be said of the last five years in the district. These were quickly filled with anxiety and a sense of overwhelming, with the last several years being a living hell both professionally and personally.”
Mathis, in her letter, accuses the administration of being dismissive and failing to offer support and guidance. “When a fellow colleague expressed concern and anxiety over how the school was enforcing Covid protocols, she was told by Mr. Grube that she could take a leave of absence and seek therapy,” she wrote.
Superintendent Muñoz said Mathis was given multiple opportunities to improve her performance and was given the option to resign, rather than a non-renewal. But Mathis declined “all proposed settlements,” prompting her Wisconsin Education Association legal counsel, Elizabeth Fernandez, to resign.
“I informed Christy Mathis this morning that the scope of my representation has run its course and my role as her attorney has concluded,” Fernandez wrote to Strang, in a June 7, 2021 email.
Mathis is seeking damages, attorney fees and court costs, and compensation for “the injuries and damages sustained for loss of consortium,” with interest. She insists the Mosinee School District pursued the investigation for the “improper purpose of finding a justification to terminate (Mathis’) employment and in an effort to cover up the Mosinee Police Department’s and their own reckless handling” of the “false and defamatory accusations” against her, according to court documents.
But Muñoz, who was hired as superintendent in July 2019, said that ultimately, Mathis’ dismissal and the criminal allegations against her were two very different things.
“We want our teachers to succeed,” Muñoz told Wausau Pilot & Review. “But there comes a point when we realize we’ve done all we can. This was not just a situation that went on for months, but for years.”
Paul Secunda, an attorney representing Mathis in her federal action, told Wausau Pilot & Review he had no comment.