By Sean Browne
A recently suspended Fox Lane High School teacher is disputing some of the claims made by the Bedford Central School District in a release last week that explained why he was temporarily removed from the classroom.
Social studies and business teacher Michael Poplardo was suspended Dec. 6 for misconduct following a hearing conducted by a state appointed officer. The officer ordered that he be suspended and lose one month’s pay.
Poplardo, who has taught for 29 years, was suspended Jan. 2, is scheduled to be reinstated on Feb. 2.
In its Jan. 9 release, the district stated that, “The misconduct consisted of [Mr. Poplardo] showing a video to students called ‘Fox News Reporting: The Truth About Sex and College.’ This video, which is 41 minutes long, contains inappropriate sexual content and presents a one-sided, biased political viewpoint.”
The district stated that Poplardo had been warned in writing on two previous occasions “not to show videos with inappropriate political and sexual content. He chose to disregard those warnings.”
Poplardo, who spoke to The Examiner on Saturday, said that to characterize the video as containing inappropriate sexual and political content is misleading and that the district is spreading misinformation.
“The video is from a lesson meant to show kids the realities that can happen with sexual assault,” Poplardo said. “The video doesn’t show any inappropriate sexual material. It was meant to educate my class and it covers the pitfalls and consequences that occur with sexual assault.”
Poplardo contended that the video, which he showed last May, was part of a two-day lesson that was meant to educate his students regarding sexual assault before they go away to college.
Student feedback was overwhelmingly positive, the teacher said. He required that his students provide him feedback on the video.
Poplardo said because he felt the video had educational value, he refused to accept the district’s initial offer of a fine equivalent to roughly one week’s salary along with training and counseling. He also took issue with the district’s statement regarding two previous videos.
One video was from The Onion about Social Security and the other was a clip from “Saturday Night Live” featuring Miley Cyrus where she mocks the 2013 U.S federal government shutdown in one of her songs, “We Can’t Stop.”
Poplardo said none of those videos contained inappropriate subject matter. He also took issue with the district for dredging up the two previous complaints, which took place five years ago.
He is appealing the decision, accusing the hearing officer of bias. Poplardo said there is “overwhelming evidence” of a lack of impartiality.
“Here is a quote from my appeal; the hearing officer said this: ‘Contrary to Mr. Poplardo, I believe rape is violence.’ This is the smoking gun that demonstrates that I could not have gotten a fair hearing. Of course I believe rape is violence,” he said.
However, the district’s release stated that Poplardo filed the papers for an appeal after the deadline had passed and the district will ask to have the matter dismissed.
While the teacher may be at odds with the school district, Poplardo has the support of at least a portion of the student body. A GoFundMe page, with a fundraising goal of $8,000 was established by a student last week to help Poplardo pay for expenses. The site showed that more than $4,000 had been raised by the end of last week.
“The lesson was intended to prepare them [students] for some of the pitfalls they might face in college,” a caption on the GoFundMe page reads. “The district administration viewed the video as controversial and suspended him without pay for one month. Both current and former students, however, were thankful for what they call, ‘Mr. Pop’s Stay Safe’ lesson.”
Any funds collected beyond the stated goal will go toward starting a scholarship, Poplardo said.