- Teacher Mateo Rueda said he unwittingly showed the art images to children
- He said they were among about 100 European art images held by the school
- Mr Rueda is now claiming unfair dismissal – officials have declined to comment
- He was accused by some outraged parents of showing porn to children
By Alastair Tancred
Published: 06:41 EST, 2 January 2018 | Updated: 10:05 EST, 2 January 2018
An art teacher in Utah who was fired after students saw European paintings depicting nudity in his class claims he has been wrongly dismissed.
Elementary school teacher Mateo Rueda said the art that triggered a classroom pornography complaint belonged to the school's library – in Hyrum, some 80 miles north of Salt Lake City – before he even worked there.
Mr Rueda concluded a 4 December lesson at Lincoln Elementary School by letting sixth graders sift through a set of about 100 cards featuring famous artworks.
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The Rococo-style partial nude Odalisque by 18th-century artist Francois Boucher was one of the paintings
The Impressionist-era portrait Iris Tree by Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani, was the other
After the police visit to the school last month, Mr Rueda was told that he was fired
Cache County deputies found Principal Jeni Buist shredding postcards – at the request of the school district – that contained nudity
He told HJnews.com that he was unaware that three or four of the cards portrayed nudity alongside well-known pieces such as Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa and Vincent van Gogh's Sunflowers.
The prints that caused offence were works such as Francois Boucher's Odalisque, an 18th-century partial nude of a woman lounging, Mr Rueda said.
He was contacted by police last month after someone filed a classroom pornography complaint against him – a move that resulted in the loss of his job.
The pictures that caused offence appeared alongside score of other more innocuous images including one of the Mona Lisa, painted by Leonardo da Vinci
'To my surprise, some of the postcards contained nudity,' Mr Rueda explained in a message posted to Facebook. 'Some students expressed discomfort about some of the images, so I immediately took back from students the postcards I felt could make students feel uncomfortable.'
Support for the teacher began on Wednesday when The Herald Journal published a letter from the mother of one of his students complaining about the art teacher's dismissal and praising his work with students.
She also let her feelings be known on Facebook, where her posts gained wide circulation among local school parents and educators.
Local school officials declined comment on the matter, noting that this is 'an ongoing personnel issue.'
However, one district official who asked not to be identified said that Mr Rueda's dismissal had more to do with his interaction with students after they noticed the nudes than with the actual pictures themselves.
To my surprise, some of the postcards contained nudity
Parent Venessa Rose Pixton said she was upset because Mr Rueda's handling of the situation belittled students, including her 11-year-old son.
'He said Mr. Mateo even told the class 'There's nothing wrong with female nipples. You guys need to grow up and be mature about this,' Ms Pixton said.
Mr Rueda denied making that statement.
A few days after the December 4 lesson, police went to Lincoln Elementary School in Hyrum. They found Principal Jeni Buist shredding postcards – at the request of the school district – that contained nudity, Sheriff Chad Jensen said.
'She said she was putting the postcards and paintings in the shredder at the request of the school district so they wouldn't be distributed again,' Mr Jensen said.
'We got some of the pictures and showed them to the County Attorney's Office, and they said these wouldn't meet the definition of pornography. They declined to file charges.
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