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Popular Canarsie teacher resigns after being taken out of classroom for social media post

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He canceled his classes.

A Canarsie high-school teacher has resigned after he was removed from his classroom due to a video he posted on social media.

Nick Russo stepped down on Oct. 15, three weeks after the morning when more than a dozen uniformed cops and detectives interrogated him in his classroom, he was thrown into a padded cell in a psych ward, and then reassigned to a cubicle at the superinten­dent’s office in Bay Ridge pending disciplinary measures — all for an Instagram post that his principal interpreted as a threat.

The former educator said he left his job because that traumatic day, and the weeks he spent biding his time on the do-nothing reassignment took a psychological toll on him.

“After everything that happened, it was just a super-stressful situation for me. It just wasn’t a good morning,” he said.

The police were investigating Russo for a video he posted online where he was acting out a masked character he calls “Nightmare,” which he uses in his morality-tale videos — along with his more friendly counterpart, “Dreams” — to teach his students about critical thinking and taking more than one perspective into account, he said.

In that video, Russo — as “Nightmare” — wore a Guy Fawkes mask and wielded a machete, and denounced a “queen” — which Russo believes the school’s new principal, Fareeda Garcia, mistakenly took to be a threat against her.

“She thought that I was threatening her in the video, which is a blatant lie,” Russo said. “If you took a look at any videos on my pages, it’s very clear that this is all performance.”

He penned his letter of resignation the day before he was scheduled to go in for a medical examination as part of the Department of Education’s investigation into his case.

A representative of his union, the United Federation of Teachers, was due to attend the examination as well, but Russo said the federation had not been supportive enough.

“The UFT has basically been non-existent,” he said.

A spokesman for the union said that it offered assistance to Russo but would not provide specifics.

“While we do not discuss the details of individual personnel matters, the UFT did offer Mr. Russo assistance with his case,” said Dick Riley.

The education department said that it makes its decisions in the interests of the school, according to a spokesman.

“We make personnel decisions carefully, based on the circumstances of each case, in the best interest of a school community,” said Doug Cohen.

Russo said he is now seeking medical help for post traumatic stress disorder and plans to focus on his mental health.

“I have always told my students, you really have to take care of yourself first,” he said.

He is taking a break from teaching to focus on artistic projects, but added that he might return to education in the future.

“Pursuing my art is what I really want to do now. I’m attempting to put together some work,” he said. “I don’t plan on being done with teaching forever. I just need to move forward right now, and believe.”

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at kduggan@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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