A Half Hollow Hills West social studies teacher pleaded not guilty Saturday to having sex with a 15-year-old he met in an online chat room.

The teacher, Jason Berman, 34, of Commack, was released Saturday afternoon on $35,000 cash or $70,000 bond, according to the Suffolk Jail.

The teen, who was 14 when the pair first began chatting on manhunt.net, is a student in another Suffolk County school district, not Half Hollow Hills, police said.

The allegation of an illicit relationship came to the attention of the authorities when the teen confided in a school social worker, said Det. Sgt. Richard Auspaker of the Suffolk Police Second Squad Detectives, based in Huntington. The social worker's tip went to the police, who later arrested Berman after an investigation.

During legal proceedings, the Half Hollow Hills district said on its Web site, "Mr. Berman will remain off the school campus."

At his arraignment in First District Court in Central Islip, a handcuffed Berman wore a teal-colored bubble jacket and blue jeans beside his attorney, Anthony M. La Pinta of Hauppauge.

"This has been a nightmare to everyone involved here. I'm sure that it's a shock to everyone that knows him," La Pinta said after the arraignment. "This is totally something that is out of his character and something that no one would every think of in their worst nightmare of happening to him."

The defendant was joined in the court gallery by his parents and one of his brothers.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Judge Jennifer A. Henry ordered details of the incident, such as the teen's name, marked "confidential."

According to Assistant District Attorney Elena L. Tomaro, Berman and the teen had sexual relations in the Berman's Commack home.

The day of the liaison, Auspaker said, the teen apparently left his home to go to Berman's vehicle without telling his mother where he was going.

"He told the mother that he was going out," Auspaker said. "I don't believe she met the individual in the vehicle."

After the teen discussed the relationship with the social worker, detectives interviewed the teen and later searched Berman's computer, where they found child pornography and other material that corroborated the teen's allegations, authorities said.

After his arrest, Berman made no incriminating statements to police and requested an attorney, Auspaker said.

Berman has been charged with third-degree criminal sexual act, endangering the welfare of a child and possession of sexual performance of a child.

"The two met on an Internet chat room," Auspaker said. "It was a chat room on a men's Web site -- a gay Web site."

The sexual relations are alleged to have occurred Jan. 31 at Berman's Fairfield Way home.Berman is single and lives alone, police said.

La Pinta declined to say in an interview whether Berman had had any contact with the teen.Half Hollow Hills superintendent Sheldon Kamilow on Friday night after the announcement of the arrest, said: "I can just tell you that I'm shocked and devastated," He added: "He is really a wonderful young man from everything I know about him.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

"At this moment, I'm operating on the premise that he's innocent until proven guilty."

La Pinta, the defense attorney, told Judge Henry that Berman is a lifelong resident of Suffolk County who graduated in 1993 from a high school in the district where he would later become a teacher. La Pinta said Berman, who has taught at Half Hollow Hills West High School for about five years, received a bachelor's degree at Stony Brook University and a master's at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University.

He said his client is a celebrated teacher who chaperoned student activities, worked with the school newspaper and coached the roller hockey team. The team's name, according to the league Web site: The Half Hollow Hills High School White Predators.

Staff writers Mark Macyk and Bill Mason contributed to this story.