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Utah Teacher Reaches Settlement With District Over Nude Postcards

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(AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

In this Wednesday, March 2, 2016 file photo a person photographs a painting by Sandro Botticelli called 'Venus' during the press view for the V&A's spring exhibition Botticelli Reimagined, in London. Postcards of fine art showing nude figures - like the ones picture above - proved problematic for one Utah teacher.

Mateo Rueda had no idea how his career would change when he went to work on December 4. 

Rueda was an art teacher at Lincoln Elementary School in Hyrum, Utah, which is northeast of Salt Lake City.

He told students in one of his 6th-grade classes to look through some art postcards in the classroom library for inspiration on a project. 

Some of the art cards of classic fine art paintings, it turned out, contained nudity.

Rueda told KNPR's State of Nevada that about 10 minutes before the end of class he could hear some of the students whispering to each other and finally one student brought the cards to his attention. 

Some students in the class felt the cards were inappropriate.

"I understand I am somewhere where it is extremely conservative," he said, "I had to make a decision about either explaining them, or maybe just hide the situation, but I think just leaving it to be ignored could have put me in trouble."

Rueda said he explained about nudity in art and encourage the students to talk about his explanation with their parents. He also said that students who didn't want to look at them didn't have to.

However, at the end of the day, he was called in to talk about the incident with the principal because students continued to talk about what happened. 

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Two days later, after a meeting with the district's human resources representative and the principal, Rueda was put on unpaid administrative leave. 

"It was actually something that I accepted," he said, "We needed to move on. This is dumb. This is stupid, but let's go ahead and keep teaching and doing my job."

However, he thinks that was apparently not enough for some parents because before the week was out, police contacted Rueda to tell him someone filed a classroom pornography complaint against him.

Rueda pointed out that it is extremely difficult to filter out nudity from historic art and that most of the art featured in the postcards hang in museums around the world that are open to all ages.

"It's not erotic art," he said, "It's not talking about sex. I think that was something to clarify to the children. Then again, I don't think it transmitted as well. I think the children paraphrased to their parents and then the parents went and paraphrased to the police."

Now he’s out of a job.

Rueda acknowledges that it is difficult to live in the area if you don't conform to the cultural mainstream, which includes Mormonism. But he didn't blame the beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the backlash he suffered.

"I think this has more to do with a very close community in very isolated places and some level of fundamentalism just related to the idea of maybe feeling that they have the upper hand when it comes to this argument and they can just go ahead and...incriminate people just out of dogma."

Rueda said when it was terminated from his job he said it "felt surreal" and like "people were not thinking rationally."

Now, he has come to an agreement with the Cache Valley School District and his professional record has been cleared of any mention of pornography.

He now hopes to start his own art academy in the nearby city of Logan, where Utah State University is located. 

"I want to be represented by my work, not by this type of calamity," he said.

Guests

Mateo Rueda, visual artist