This week we released two videos of NJEA union presidents talking about how they go about protecting physically abusive teachers from losing their jobs. Both the Hamilton and Union City union presidents have been suspended from their respective school districts, according to reports in local media.
To view the videos that led to these suspensions, navigate the following links:
In addition to these suspensions, the NJEA has issued a statement as a result of our videos, saying that they have opened an independent review of their organization’s practices. NJEA states:
“To ensure that appropriate practices are followed, we are commissioning an independent review of the practices of our local affiliates and staff. The purpose of that review is to ensure that every staff member and local affiliate leader understands and clearly communicates the responsibility of all school employees to report any suspected abuse of children. Based on that review, NJEA will undertake appropriate training to ensure that takes place in every local and in every instance.”
We have also requested NJEA disclose information about their organization and have urged our audience to ask NJEA the same.
It appears that two education groups, JerseyCAN and Better Education for Kids, are calling on state lawmakers for investigative hearings regarding the two union president’s remarks on video. The letter says:
“These videos highlight that there may be weaknesses in teacher disciplinary procedures that unethical insiders can exploit to protect teachers accused of wrongdoing.”
Additionally, the Hudson County Prosecutor told The Jersey Journal in a statement that her office is working with law enforcement to “establish the veracity of any allegations of sexual misconduct referenced in the video in order to determine if there was any failure in reporting.”
New Jersey State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat, has called for a legislative hearing to investigate misconduct by local NJEA leadership after the release of our videos.
In a phone interview with NJ Advance Media, Sweeney said:
“[If union leadership] devised a way to get around reporting properly incidents in schools where kids have been physically assaulted, it’s a problem… It’s a real problem.”
“I think it’s enough issue when you have local leadership bragging about how they get around things, and how they can fix things, that it needs to be reviewed to make sure it stops.”
Sweeney dismissed NJEA’s criticism of Project Veritas, saying, “they can attack the videos and who did the videos all they want. But those words were real, those actions were real, and they need to be dealt with.”
The State Senate President added:
“The NJEA doing their own independent investigation is the fox watching the henhouse.”
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy stated that he supports the state Senate’s motion to hold legislative hearings into the NJEA. As of May 7th, Gov. Murphy said that while he had not seen the videos, he did read about the clips, and said he would like to see the raw unedited tape. Gov. Murphy was endorsed by the NJEA during his election campaign.
Two Republican New Jersey Senators have signaled support for the legislative hearings to be held on the NJEA’s conduct. Senator Joe Pennachio and Senator Anthony Bucco, who in April sponsored the “Pass the trash” legislation which is intended to protect students from abusive teachers, have stated that they want the NJEA to offer solutions during the hearings in order to remedy the issues their local affiliates exhibited on video.
Sen. Pennacchio tweeted:
The NJEA should see the upcoming legislative hearings as an opportunity to excise this cancer that exists among them that’s led to their horrific policy that every teacher should be protected at any cost. https://t.co/q2rLVre8xE
— Sen. Joe Pennacchio (@joepennacchio) May 9, 2018
Pennacchio added, “I hope good teachers will urge the NJEA to accept a seat at the table to engage productively in the upcoming hearings.”
Sen. Bucco tweeted:
I encourage the NJEA to come to the legislative hearings with solutions to propose. We all know that the toxic culture that’s plainly visible in the undercover videos is wrong, so let’s work together to fix it. https://t.co/x8AHNGHaG5
— Sen. Anthony Bucco (@tonybucco) May 9, 2018
Bucco also said, “The simple fact is that local teachers’ union officials wouldn’t act the way they do if not for tacit or direct approval from higher up.”
An NJEA spokesperson has told NJ Advance Media that both David Perry and Kathleen Valencia have resigned from their respective union positions. It is unclear on what date the individuals resigned.
The New Jersey State Senate Education Committee held a hearing to question leaders from the NJEA about the conduct exposed from our undercover videos. Said State Sen. Teresa Ruiz, “[The videos showed] some of the most disturbing conversations that in my entire life I have had to be witness to.” Ruiz added, “We have to change the culture of individuals who think their main priority is to protect the worst.”
State Sen. Fred Madden said that while “all the safeguards [are in] place… the problem is there is a big hole in it. The hole is if it’s not reported to you or the Board of Examiners, nothing is done. Something needs to be clamped down on, even the person who is not reporting it, hiding the facts. I think they are just as guilty as the person who is abusing the child.”
NJEA Executive Director Ed Richardson conceded in testimony that, “what was said on [the videos] appeared to fall far short of our values and the standards we set for our union, its leaders, and its members.”
Following legislative hearings, the New Jersey State Senate has quickly advanced eleven bills, seven of which were written after the hearings, which aim to prevent sexual abuse of students in schools. Shelley Skiller, executive director of the Better Education Institute said of this development, “We really need to create a culture and climate where children and adults alike feel like it’s safe to report abuse.”
Among the package includes bills that if passed, will do the following:
- Enact new training policies for school districts regarding child sexual abuse
- Mandate sexual abuse reporting to law enforcement
- Require more child abuse background checks for employment
- Require board of education to post information about the prevention child sex abuse
- Establish a task force that works to prevent sexual abuse of children
- Stricter definitions of what constitutes sexual assault or aggravated criminal sexual assault
- Mandates child abuse and sexual abuse training for candidates for teaching certification
To view more summaries of all the bills, click here.
These bills are subject to change as they advance. Jonathan Pushman, a legislative advocate for the New Jersey School Boards Association said, “There’s an opportunity here to perhaps expand upon [the bills,] maybe broaden [them] so that they get some guidance and training on all matters regarding conduct unbecoming of employees.