After undercover videos, NJ teachers union says it will look at itself
TRENTON — The state's largest teachers union will examine its own members' conduct after undercover videos published by a conservative group showed union officials in two districts discussing how they use questionable means to defend teachers accused of wrongdoing.
"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," the New Jersey Education Association said in a statement.
The NJEA's statement on Thursday — after Project Veritas released video of a Union City union president discussing how a teacher need not worry about having injured a student — went further than its response a day earlier to video showing a Hamilton union president bragging about how the union will "bend the rules" in order to protect "the worst people."
But the new NJEA statement said it would not comment on the specific allegations in the Project Veritas videos because of their " long history of releasing deceptively edited videos that later prove to have been dishonest and misleading." They also noted founder James O'Keefe's guilty plea in 2010 to "charges related to his illegal tactics."
Although the teachers in both videos are fictitious, the local union presidents did not seem to know that. Project Veritas argued that the union leaders were shirking their legal responsibility to report potential child abuse to the proper authorities.
The videos resulted in the districts in Mercer and Hudson counties taking action against the union leaders.
The Union City Board of Education said it had suspended Union City Education Association President Kathleen Valencia from her $84,100-a-year job.
"The Board finds the comments that were made deeply disturbing and inappropriate because they in no way reflect the views, and core beliefs and values, of our school district, or of the professionalism of our educators, and other employees," the board said in a statement.
The statement said that the school board and the UCEA are "two separate and distinct entities."
The NJEA said following the review, the labor organization "will undertake appropriate training to ensure that takes place in every local and in every instance. There is no place for any ambiguity about the responsibility of every adult, in every position within our public schools, to protect the wellbeing of all students."
O'Keefe told New Jersey 101.5's Bill Spadea on Wednesday there are more videos of teachers union presidents to be be released. A montage of office doors in a video show the NJEA offices in Trenton, the Toms River Education Association and the Essex County Education Association.
"That is the power of what we do at Project Veritas. That's the power of what you did putting the pressure on them but the job isn't done," O'Keefe said Thursday in a new video, urging viewers to urge the NJEA to name the teacher who Valencia said had been accused of having sex with a student but had not been charged with a crime.
Full statement of the NJEA after the release of the second Project Veritas video
Nothing is more important to NJEA members than the safety and wellbeing of the students they are privileged to educate. NJEA members go above and beyond every day to ensure that students are safe, healthy and well educated. They are members of a union to be supported in that work through our joint advocacy for safe, healthy schools for every student. The educators of NJEA take their obligation to students very seriously.
NJEA does not, in any instance, condone the abuse or mistreatment of children or the failure to properly report allegations of abuse. That is the antithesis of what NJEA members stand for as professional educators. 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. There is no place for any ambiguity about the responsibility of every adult, in every position within our public schools, to protect the wellbeing of all students.
With regard to the videos recently released, the source of the videos in question deserves careful scrutiny. Project Veritas is a political organization with a long history of releasing deceptively edited videos that later prove to have been dishonest and misleading. The founder of Project Veritas, James O’Keefe, in 2010 pled guilty to charges related to his illegal tactics. O’Keefe was sentenced to three years’ probation, 100 hours of community service and a $1,500 fine.
Project Veritas sends secret operatives, using false identities, to lie to other individuals while secretly recording them. It is very important to note that the operatives are not speaking about real individuals or incidents. Their false allegations are entirely fabricated for the purpose of creating a false narrative. They then deceptively edit those videos for political purposes, with no regard for truth or honesty. For those reasons, NJEA will not comment on any allegations made by Project Veritas.
NJEA will continue its unfailing advocacy for students and public schools. Our members remain committed to providing a safe, healthy learning environment for every student in their care, so that every student has the opportunity to learn, grow and thrive.