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Acquitted Saratoga Springs Teacher Terminated

A Saratoga Springs middle school teacher, acquitted of charges associated with allegedly making inappropriate contact with a 14-year-old female student, has been terminated by the school district. 

At a special meeting of the Saratoga Springs Board of Education held Monday evening, members of the public were allowed to comment on the recommended termination of middle school mathematics teacher Joseph Bruno.

In May 2012, Bruno was arrested on charges of misdemeanor child endangerment after a female student within the district accused the math teacher of engaging her in inappropriate conversation and making inappropriate contact. In May of 2013, Bruno was acquitted of the charges by a jury.

Those in attendance Monday evening included Bruno, and former colleagues, friends, as well as parents and students who spoke in defense of the teacher.

Despite the testimony, the school board voted to implement the termination decision of labor hearing officer Ira B. Lobel, submitted to the school district on November 20th.

Jeff Honeywell, the school district’s attorney, said that under New York State education law 3020-a, the board still has the obligation to implement the hearing officer’s decision.

“Once a decision is made, the board is obligated to implement that decision, whatever it may be – it could be not guilty, it could be guilty, it could be guilty with a particular penalty, but a board of education is not at liberty to change a penalty at this point.”

Honeywell said state law regarding termination differs between teachers and administrators and other school staff.

“Unlike in comparison to civil  service law sec. 75 which covers bus drivers, custodians, those kinds of folks, is a recommendation that goes to the board, and the board can change those decisions.”

Bruno, who had been placed on leave since May 2012, said after the meeting that he turned down at $75,000 offer from the school board to resign in September. He said he had hoped the acquittal on child endangerment charges would rule out termination.

“We thought that there would be a positive ending to this – I was offered $75,000 to resign, I turned it down without batting an eye because I knew how much evidence there was going through with this, and also this isn’t about money, it’s about my career.”

Bruno claimed that he has been “bullied to no end” and faced ridicule from members of the community.

“I was accused of the most horrible thing a teacher can do, and I was forced out of the school district, I was forced out of my classroom. And you know what it’s like when somebody leaves the room for five minutes, everybody talks about them behind their back. Teachers tend to be the worst with that. And I was gone for not five minutes but for over a year.”

Don Benway Sr., a friend of Bruno, said that the implementation of the penalty by the school board sends two negative messages to the community.

First of all you’re basically arming the students knowing that they can get a teacher fired or in trouble with their career by making allegations whether they’re true or not, and second of all you’re sending a message to the teachers that you can get fired for anything and you’re not defending him.”

Stephanie Jones, a mother of two daughters within the district, also criticized the board for not defending Bruno.

“The obligation here was to back the teacher that was found not guilty, and they’re not doing that and that’s a shame.”

Bruno said that he cannot return to teaching and that there’s nothing he can do legally about his termination. He added:

“With this kind of evidence in my favor, with my life still being turned upside down, no one is safe.”

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.