District: Union president’s comments do not represent our ‘core values’
HAMILTON (Mercer) — The comments of David Perry, the teacher's union local president who admitted to "bending the truth" in order to protect teachers accused by students of assault or making threats, were called "inappropriate and unacceptable" by the district superintendent.
Perry, the president of the Hamilton Teachers Education Association, described his job in a video posted by Project Veritas as defending "even the worst people" from allegations of physical abuse and verbal threats against students.
“I need to know the truth, so that we can bend the truth," Perry says to a Project Veritas agent pretending to be the relative of a teacher who is worried about an altercation he had with a student.
Hamilton School Superintendent Dr. Scott Rocco said in a statement posted on the district website Wednesday night that they became aware of an individual who alleges specific actions he has taken that are not aligned with our core mission of assuring the safety and security of our students.
The message, which was also emailed to parents, did not mention Perry by name or disclose what action was taken against him. Rocco's executive assistant would not confirm reports to New Jersey 101.5 that Perry was suspended.
"Any allegations of an individual taking actions to circumvent this core mission are not only disheartening, but they are also inappropriate and unacceptable. We as a school district do not accept these actions and will take every measure possible to assure our students are safe. Once notified of this video, our district took immediate action and opened an investigation into the comments. We have also alerted the authorities."
Rocco noted that the incident depicted in the Project Veritas video was fictitious and the district's staff is trained to report and address issues of misconduct.
"The statements made on the video do not represent the actions of the professional faculty and staff in our district, nor do they represent the true beliefs and values of this school district or who we are as faculty, staff, administration, and community," Rocco wrote.
Hamilton Mayor Kelly Yaede, in a message on Project Veritas' Twitter account and verified by New Jersey 101.5, said she was "disturbed" by the video after watching it.
"There is no place in our school system for this philosophy. I trust this matter will be dealt with by a very capable Superintendent and Board of Education," she was quoted as saying in the tweet.
In a follow up interview with Project Veritas' James O'Keefe at the union headquarters, Perry insisted that he said "what we do is help people .. when they do wrong they deserve the punishment."
Public records show Perry has worked in the Hamilton district since 1982 and earns over $83,000 per year.
Vito Gagliardi Jr., managing partner at Porzio, Bromberg & Newman in Morristown, said that the video serves to reinforce stereotypes about teachers unions.
“Unfortunately this video reflects people’s worst fears about the way some teachers unions operate,” Gagliadri told New Jersey 101.5.
He said that Project Veritas’ controversial methods, which remind him of the early days of CBS’ 60 Minutes, are necessary to get the in formation they seek. “I don’t know that anything constructive comes from attacking the messenger since the audio and video demonstrate what (Perry) said.”
NJEA spokesman Steve Baker said Project Veritas has a long history of releasing deceptively edited videos and did not think the video should be given any credibility. He wouldn't comment on what Perry was saying in the video. Baker did not return a message seeking additional comment following Rocco's announcement.
Gagliardi said there have been recent cases in New Jersey where it’s pretty clear that it would be a mistake to assume the leadership of a union speaks for everyone.
“In my experience good teachers aren’t interested in how much effort is undertaking to protect bad teachers or teachers who would do harm to children. Unless there was a circumstance in which this individual took action to skewer or interfere with an investigation," Gagliardi said.
Gagliardi, who has represented school districts in a number of matters, is not sure the school board has anything it needs to address here.
“The actions that a board takes against a general attitude of an association member are quite limited. There’s certain issues that protect union leadership from generally picking certain positions that are aggressive or some would consider some would consider obstructive. You can only take action if specific things were done to skew an investigation or to get in the way of some investigation the district is undertaking.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been corrected to reflect that quotations were from an interview with Vito Gagliardi Jr., not his father.