The Saratoga Springs School District has fired a 37-year-old tenured English teacher on the recommendation of a report prepared by the state Department of Education describing inappropriate conduct between the teacher and his 14-year-old female student.
Mark Oppenneer was 36 when he allegedly pursued the relationship during the spring semester of the 2006-2007 school year and through the following summer. The relationship was not physical in nature, but Oppenneer sent over 100 communications by e-mail, instant messenger and MySpace. The two also met at the Uncommon Grounds coffee shop and Fierro's Pizza restaurant during the summer. Oppenneer also invited her to visit him at the Ndakinna Center, where he worked as educational director, on several occasions.
The third-year ninth- and tenth-grade teacher had met the ninth-grader in class, and she "was a highly intellectual student with a strong interest in writing and poetry," according to the report.
Also according to the report, Oppenneer began having lunch with the student in his classroom, and they created music CDs for each other. As the summer approached, he asked for her e-mail address so they could continue communicating.
The report was compiled by Education Department Hearing Officer Dennis Campagna, who is part of the department's tenured teacher hearing unit. It primarily concerns the summertime communications between the student and teacher. The report notes that of 144 messages sent by Oppenneer, 95 occurred between 11 p.m. and 4:30 a.m.
Though their relationship was not physical, words exchanged between the two indicate a friendship beyond the professional. When the student asked Oppenneer his opinion of her, the report says he used phrases such as "you make me feel," "in my heart," "kinetic bond" and "special person."
Oppenneer's messages indicate he knew the dangers of his relationship with the student and the personal nature of their correspondence.