Lake County school district upholds firing of teacher over crude TikTok videos

Todd Erdman taught at Umatilla Middle School for 12 years

FILE - This Monday, Sept. 28, 2020, file photo, shows as logo of a smartphone app TikTok on a user post on a smartphone screen in Tokyo. Canadian e-commerce platform Shopify said Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, its made a deal with TikTok enabling merchants to create shoppable video ads that drive customers to online stores. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato, File) (Kiichiro Sato, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

UMATILLA, Fla. – A Central Florida school district will not reinstate a middle school teacher who lost his job last year after making “lewd and offensive” TikTok videos that were seen by his students.

The Lake County School Board agreed last month to uphold the termination of Todd Erdman's teaching contract, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

Erdman, 45, had taught at Umatilla Middle School for 12 years.

He was fired in September 2019, shortly after the videos were brought to the district's attention, the newspaper reported. Officials said the videos amounted to professional misconduct.

The videos included one of Erdman cursing and joking as he drank a beer in the morning, saying he needed alcohol because of the “idiots” he worked with. Others showed a candlelit bathtub, where he made or lip-synced crude sexual comments.

“This is probably one of the most disturbing and most appalling things I’ve seen from an educator,” Superintendent Diane Kornegay testified during a July administrative hearing on Erdman’s case.

Parents and staff contacted the school's principal and assistant principal on Sept. 4, 2019, saying they had seen them and that students viewed them as well.

Erdman had no prior discipline issues and had positive evaluations. He said the videos were private and blamed them on someone stealing his phone, and then hackers accessing his TikTok account, the newspaper reported.

The superintendent told an administrative law judge hearing the case that it didn't matter.

“He bears the burden to make sure if they were not intended for outside viewing, that that not occur. And it did,” she said.

Judge Robert Telfer agreed, and noted in his written order that parents testified that their children had shown them a handful of the videos, which one mother said made her “disgusted.”

Judge Robert Telfer also said he did not find credible Erdman’s explanation for how the videos became public.

Erdman was fired in November 2019. He appealed the decision, but the hearing wasn't held until July, in part because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Telfer heard two days of testimony and then ruled in November that the school district had just cause to fire Erdman, the newspaper reported.

“Those TikTok videos contain lewd and offensive material,” he wrote in his Nov. 6 order. “Those TikTok videos made their way into the public sphere, and were viewed by students and parents in the school district, as well as school district personnel.”

Erdman was overseeing the middle school’s in-school suspension program when he was removed from his post in 2019. He had also served as a basketball coach, athletic director and eighth-grade field trip chaperone.

His attorney, Nick Wolfmeyer, told the school board there were no grounds to fire Erdman because the videos were made during the summer when he was not working and were meant to be private.

Wolfmeyer told the district it is problematic for them to “delve into an employee’s personal, private social media life,” Wolfmeyer said. “It opens a big can of worms if you’re going to start disciplining and even terminating personnel for things that they did away from work, over the summer and in their own private lives.”

The newspaper reported that Lake school district administrators forwarded information about Erdman’s termination to the state, which could take action against his state certificate.