A high school teacher whose one-month suspension without pay for showing seniors a video with what the district is calling “inappropriate material” has sparked a large debate throughout the community in Northern Westchester.
Hundreds of Facebook posts, commentaries and emails, and even a GoFundMe page have flown across the district regarding the suspension of Michael Poplardo who wants to be back in the place he loves, the classroom at Fox Lane High School in Bedford.
But as the fight grows between the district and Poplardo, the likelihood of an amicable settlement seems to dim for the 30-year teacher.
“I have a passion for teaching and coaching,” Poplardo said while he awaits his anticipated return to the school next month. “It’s the only thing I have ever done and I’m not sure now with how the district has reacted that I will be able to teach again.”
The whole issue started over a video he showed, "Fox News: The Truth About Sex and College," in hopes of getting seniors in class ready to attend college or the military, or wherever life takes them, he said.
“Students need to realize the dangers and that they will be adults and their parents won’t be able to help them,” he said. “Life will be different and they need to understand that.”
No students complained about the movie, he said. But one did send an anonymous tip to the administration saying the video had sexual content.
The district said he had been told not to show the video: “Not true,” he said.
Poplardo says he had shown the video to five classes in 2015-2016 and 2017-2018 without an issue. He was not told by the district not to show the video.
A girls softball and soccer coach for years, he said he had received discipline about showing a skit from “The Onion” about Social Security in 2011 and another “Saturday Night Live” skit featuring Miley Cyrus in 2013. In 30 years, he says that was the extent of his “discipline.”
In performance evaluations for the past 30 years, Poplardo has been ranked as “highly effective,” the highest rating you can receive, 25 times and effective four times.
“I care about the students,” he said. “I want them to have a strategy and know how to avoid the pitfalls of life.”
Poplardo is shocked and dismayed that the district released a two-page statement regarding his suspension. He claims that much of it is not true and the event spiraling out of control may keep him from the job he loves.
The district said in their statement that in deference to Poplardo’s long years of service, it offered him a settlement under which he would have paid a fine of approximately one week’s salary, and undergone training and counseling. The district said he refused, which sent the decision to a hearing officer who ordered the suspension.
Poplardo said he couldn’t believe the claim.
“I was offered to take six months suspension without pay and lose my coaching and advisory positions,” he said. “That’s crazy and I requested a hearing.”
The officer later gave him the one month without pay suspension, but the superintendent, he claims, also had him removed from all coaching and advisory positions at a loss of $13,000, he said.
Dr. Christopher Manno, Superintendent of Schools, said on Monday that “The District stands by the statement previously provided.”
Now the case is headed to a state court in an effort to get his coaching and advisory positions reinstated. He had a union lawyer before but is currently representing himself.
He’s also concerned about returning to school and the “drama” it might create. He is afraid the students might want to support him and take some kind of “action,” that would not square with district officials.
But all the legal issues aside, he is most concerned about his family, especially his wife Rita, who has suffered a real “emotional toll” from his reputation being attacked, and his son, who has his same name.
“He’s in college and now if you Google his name, my face shows up with all this mess, he’s embarrassed,” he said.
The teacher would like one thing he said: To teach and coach for at least one more year until he turns 55-years-old.
“I don’t want to go out this way after 30 years of dedicating my life.”
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