A hearing officer for the state Education Department is recommending that a 36-year-old English teacher at Saratoga Springs High School be fired for “inappropriate conduct” with a 14-year-old female student.
Mark Oppenneer is a tenured teacher with the city school district. State police investigators reviewed evidence in the case but did not file any criminal charges against the teacher.
The alleged incidents occurred during the 2006-07 school year and the summer of 2007, according to a 36-page report from hearing officer Dennis J. Campagna, who is part of the Education Department’s tenured teacher hearing unit.
Frank Palumbo, president of the district’s Board of Education, declined comment Tuesday. The issue is expected to be discussed at the school board’s Aug. 12 meeting in Saratoga Springs.
The hearing officer’s report details a platonic relationship between the tenured teacher, who lives with his wife in Wilton, and the then ninth-grade student.
Oppenneer is alleged to have conducted an extensive e-mail relationship with the student and also invited the girl to have lunch with him at Fierro’s Pizza restaurant on Route 9N in Greenfield more than once and also invited the girl to Uncommon Grounds Coffee Shop on Broadway in Saratoga Springs more than once.
The teacher and student discussed poetry, her poems and their feelings about a range of subjects, according to the report. He also invited her to see him at the Ndakinna Education Center in Greenfield, where he is was member of the staff.
At one point in the non-physical relationship, Oppenneer was confronted by his wife about the e-mails between him and the student.
“My wife became very upset this afternoon,” Oppenneer is quoted as saying to the girl via e-mail or My Space messages.
“She perused our conversations and found them very disturbing. She feels my tone, the subjects of our discussions, and the manner in which they take place [i.e, Myspace] is completely inappropriate,” Oppenneer is quoted as saying.
“And I suppose stepping back and seeing the big picture, I can see her point of view,” he wrote. “I also imagine it would freak your parents out too.”
“And perhaps the school officials … not to mention the police (you can imagine the conversation I had [with my wife]” he wrote.
The relationship issue came to a head when the mother of the 14-year-old girl discovered the electronic communications just prior to the Labor Day weekend in 2007, according to the report.
The mother contacted state police and presented them with a copy of the communications. State police investigators met with the mother along with high school Principal Frank Crowley and Michael Piccirillo, assistant superintendent for secondary education.
The state police investigators also met with Oppenneer and his attorney for 45 minutes.
School district officials and Walter Jennings, president of the Saratoga Springs Teachers Association, met with Oppenneer on Sept. 4, 2007. District officials determined that the electronic communications Oppenneer had with the 14-year-old “went well beyond the permissible boundaries of a student and teacher,” the report says.
Oppenneer was placed on administrative leave as of Sept. 5, 2007.
Crowley and Piccirillo also met with the girl and her mother and questioned her about the nature of the relationship. The student “confirmed that the relationship between her and [Oppenneer] was platonic and that there had been no physical contact between them,” the report says.
The district continued its own investigation and after its conclusion “the district concluded that [Oppenneer’s] termination was warranted.”
The Board of Education on Sept. 27 voted to lodge disciplinary charges against Oppenneer, pursuant to education law.