[PHOTO CREDIT: Lake Sumter TV/LSTV / lake.k12.fl.us]
[Original Publish Date: 11/26/19]
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TAVARES, Florida — A former Umatilla Middle School teacher embroiled in a ‘salacious video’ scandal claims the Lake County School Board denied him due process in a lawsuit filed Thursday.
In September, Todd Erdman was accused of sharing inappropriate videos on the social media platform TikTok that were viewed by numerous students during the hurricane break.
According to a report taken by the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, a UMS student came across one of the videos that had been taken from TikTok and posted to Instagram by a user who was never identified. The student immediately recognized Erdman and shared the video with friends; it spread within a matter of hours.
A concerned parent emailed two of the videos to LLN Sept. 5. One video, 16 seconds in length, shows the teacher having a verbal exchange with an unknown female. The conversation has graphic sexual connotations that most would consider vulgar. The second video, just eight seconds, shows the teacher in a bathtub making another graphic sexual remark.
Erdman was removed from UMS, put into a no-student contact position and an investigation was opened by LCS Employee Relations. According to the lawsuit, on Oct. 28, Superintendent Diane Kornegay sent Erdman a letter informing him of the findings and outcome of the investigation.
The letter stated the investigation found Erdman created numerous videos posted on his TikTok account. “The investigation further substantiated that students, parents, coworkers, and community members, as a result of the videos, expressed a loss of confidence in you in general. Sentiments such as students not wanting to be in your class and parents not wanting their children under your care, either in class, or on the basketball team you coach, were conveyed to the District,” the letter states.
The letter drew the conclusion that Erdman was guilty of several policy and rule violations, including the Principles of Professional Conduct for the Education Profession and conduct unbecoming an employee of the District. Erdman was informed he had violated the immorality clause and had committed misconduct in office.
Due to these policy and rule violations, Kornegay stated in her letter she recommended Erdman for dismissal at the Nov. 18 school board meeting. The letter also gave Erdman instructions to request a hearing if he disagreed with Kornegay’s decision.
At that meeting, Erdman’s attorney, Eric Lindstrom of Orlando, asked to speak in his client’s favor, and brought along supporters who also wanted to speak. LCSB Attorney Stephen Johnson denied Lindstrom’s request and said, “I have advised Mr. Lindstrom that neither he nor anyone else can present evidence or testimony to you this evening relating to a quasi-judicial matter…”
The Cornell Legal Information Institute defines “quasi-judicial” as a proceeding conducted by an administrative or executive official that is similar to a court proceeding. A court may review a decision arising from a quasi-judicial proceeding.
Lindstrom made strenuous objections to Johnson’s denial during the public comment portion of the meeting. He warned the Board, “it’s going to be an expensive and embarrassing case.”
“This is not the way any other school district that I’m aware of does this,” Lindstrom said, seeking to appeal to the Board. Board Vice-Chair Bill Mathias responded with, “You’re in Lake County now! Let’s make that really clear. This is Lake County.” Board Chairwoman Dr. Kristi Burns followed with a laugh and said, “Yeah, we tend to roll.”
Erdman did not waste any time; just three days after the meeting Lindstrom filed suit on his behalf alleging he was the victim of a ‘hack’ and his private videos were stolen and posted publicly. However, a supplemental report taken by the UMS school resource deputy tends to dispute this claim. According to the report, the videos from TikTok were posted on another social media platform by an unknown user, and shared with students in a group chat. Several students involved in the group chat were interviewed and many of them told the SRD once they saw the videos in the group chat, they went to TikTok and directly searched “jfett1975,” Erdman’s username on TikTok. Upon searching, they found more videos, including duets with other users.
Erdman never contacted any of his students through TikTok and all the videos LCSO found involved only adult women, according to the report. LCSO concluded Erdman did not commit a crime and the report was turned over to administration.
Erdman’s lawsuit takes the position that the Board was not acting in a quasi-judicial capacity within the meaning of the law by taking action on Erdman’s dismissal. It is alleged that in taking action on the firing, the Board did not make any findings of fact or conclusions of law and did not adjudicate any disputes, so by taking action, the Board violated the law by not giving the public a reasonable opportunity to be heard.
Erdman is seeking, in part, back pay and a declaratory judgment declaring the Board violated the law by denying him the opportunity to be heard, or declare the Board violated Erdman’s due process rights by taking a quasi-judicial action against him without first providing him the opportunity to speak.
[For the original related story: https://www.lakelegalnews.com/article/inappropriate-teacher-video-leaks-out-to-lake-county-students/]
Our Editor-in-Chief, Marilyn M. Aciego, began writing for Lake Legal News in 2010. In addition, she has made more than two dozen appearances on live national television, including Nancy Grace and the Greta Van Susteren show, along with her appearance on Evil Twins. Contact her with breaking news, tips, and feedback by sending an e-mail to 352Tips@gmail.com. You can also contact us on our Facebook page — and make sure you “Like” and “Follow us” there. [PHOTO CREDIT: Bonnie Whicher]