A high school teacher in the wealthy suburban New York town of Bedford has been suspended for showing his students a Fox News documentary as part of a lesson plan to prepare them for college.
Mike Poplardo is an economics teacher at Fox Lane High School in Bedford. In May of 2018, he spent two days on a “mini-unit” designed to prepare students for college. During this lesson, he showed students the Fox News documentary titled “Fox News Reporting: The Truth about Sex and College.”
The documentary (which includes commentary from this reporter), hosted by Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum, tells the stories of several male students who say they were falsely accused of sexual assault, in one instance also talking to the female accuser for her perspective. It also debunks some common myths surrounding sexual assault statistics.
Poplardo did not show the documentary to warn male students that they will be falsely accused by women. Instead, he used the film as a jumping off point to a larger discussion about sexual assault.
“Our Essential Question: What strategies can you put in place to avoid being in the ‘mess’ depicted in the video as a victim of sexual violence or a person accused of sexual violence?” Poplardo asks in his lesson plan — which he provided to The Daily Wire — after a link to the video.
This broad topic was followed by several specific questions: “Can the victim of sexual violence be a male?” “Can a female be accused of sexual violence?” and “How can administration of a college or a manager of a business or a leader in the military protect the rights of the person who believes they are a victim of sexual violence while also protecting the rights of the accused?”
He concluded the lesson plan by stating: “All people (male and female) are at risk of being a victim of sexual violence and are at risk of being accused of sexual violence so all of you should plan to use one or more than one of the strategies we have discussed to avoid being a victim and/or the accused.” (Emphasis original.) Poplardo had the students write down one strategy they would use on an index card and hand them to him before leaving class.
In an interview with The Daily Wire, Poplardo said the students in his class came up with “some really cool ideas.”
“The kids were writing things like, ‘Well, we use designated drivers when we go to parties and stuff. Why don't we have a designated friend on campus? Whatever that person tells us, if we say, don't answer that text, you don't answer that text. If he says, it's time to leave this party, you would leave the party,'” Poplardo said.
The fact that the lesson focused on due process and not sexual assault did not factor into the district’s decision to charge Poplardo with inappropriate behavior. He had shown this documentary to five classes in the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 school years, without complaint. He said no student complained about being shown the video last May, but someone sent an anonymous tip to school administrators claiming the documentary included sexual content.
That “sexual content” consisted of about three sentences in the entire 50-minute video that describe a particular claim of rape. Initial reports of the incident suggested he was suspended for showing a “graphic sexual video,” which he was able to have changed.
Poplardo is a tenured teacher and has taught in the district for nearly 30 years. He was brought before a hearing officer over the charges of “misconduct and conduct unbecoming a teacher, misconduct, incompetence, and insubordination” stemming from his showing of the video.
It is important to note that Poplardo has received yearly evaluations, and all but four of these describe him as “highly effective,” the highest rating a teacher can get. The other four rate him as “effective,” the second highest rating he could get.
Now he was accused of “incompetence,” among other things. The hearing he was subjected to mirrored, in many ways, the hearings college students accused of sexual assault must endure. While Poplardo was represented by a union lawyer and allowed to cross-examine the evidence against him — both of which college students are not entitled to — he was forced to plead his case before an adversarial panel that included his school’s previous principal, with whom he had a prior incident. He was also not able to question the person who sent the anonymous tip, as their identity has not been disclosed. Poplardo said no student or parent was spoken to as part of the investigation into his conduct, and the bulk of the lesson plan was ignored; the school focused only on the video, essentially putting Fox News on trial in a liberal district.
Poplardo is the only known conservative at Fox Lane High School and believes he had “a target” on his back.
“They just don't like me because in the work room when everyone else is complaining about every single thing Trump does, I don't participate. I don't fight back if I'm outnumbered nine to one, but I don't chime in,” Poplardo said.
Poplardo’s hearing took place on September 14 and October 10, 2018. The district argued, according to a copy of the decision against him provided to The Daily Wire, that Poplardo showed the video despite its warning that it “contains explicit content that some will find disturbing” and did not inform students or parents that the video would be shown prior to the lesson, nor did he give them an option to opt out of viewing the documentary. The school also claimed the Fox News documentary portrays policies regarding sexual assault and harassment “as unfair to those accused of harassment and as the product of politically-motivated ‘hysteria,’ and that portrays females who report perceived instances of sexual harassment in a negative light.”
The district also suggested this lesson plan had nothing to do with his course curricula of economics of “Society, Literature and Truth.” Poplardo conducted the lesson with 10 days left in the school year in an effort to prepare students for college, as he had done in the past.
Poplardo was also disciplined for ignoring previous warnings not to share videos of a political or sexual nature. In January 2012, Poplardo showed his class a satire video from the Onion poking fun at the national debate over Social Security. In 2013, he showed his class a “Saturday Night Live” segment featuring “Republican leaders dressed in sexually provocative attire and acting in a sexually provocative manner as they spoke on the topic of the government shutdown,” according to a copy of the complaint provided to The Daily Wire.
The district had wanted Poplardo suspended for six months, but was only granted a one-month suspension without pay.
The school district said it “offered [Poplardo] a settlement under which he would have paid a fine of approximately one week’s salary, and undergone training and counseling,” adding that if he had accepted, there “would have been no suspension at all.”
Poplardo said this is “a lie that’s being challenged.” He said the settlement included a $3,000 fine, but they also removed him as the JV girls’ softball and soccer coach, and as the advisor to the debate club and advisor to the class of 2020. He said adding up all those positions amounted to around $16,000, not the $3,000 the district is claiming. He also said the district told him he would not be reinstated to those positions.
Poplardo appealed the district’s finding that he violated school policy to the New York State Supreme Court, but the district says he filed them “after the legal deadline had already passed,” and will try to get the case dismissed.
After Poplardo was suspended, he sent a letter to parents explaining why he would not be teaching the next month, and included a copy of his lesson plan. This prompted the school district to file seven more charges against him, all based on the email containing a link to the Fox News documentary, even though he did not instruct anyone to open the link. Poplardo believes this is in retaliation for him seeking publicity for his case. These new charges, reviewed by The Daily Wire, request the overturning of his tenure and “discharge from his employment.” The charges come from Dr. Christopher Manno, the school superintendent, who did not respond to Daily Wire requests for comment and more information. Neither Manno nor the school district responded to a question asking what would have happened to Poplardo if he had shown “The Hunting Ground,” a 2015 documentary that affirms what the #MeToo claims about sexual assault in America.
A GoFundMe account for Poplardo was set up by his friend on his behalf, and has collected more than $5,000 of an $8,000 goal to help pay for his family’s costs while he is suspended without pay. The account has been shared more than 600 times on Facebook at the time of this writing, and contains numerous messages of support from the community and past students.
“I have a passion for teaching and coaching,” Poplardo told the Bedford Daily Voice in a separate interview. “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.”