NJ union president on video: Sex with a student … Don’t worry!
UNION CITY — Another New Jersey local teacher's union president was caught on video discussing how the union can protect teachers accused of wrongdoing — and it has resulted in the district suspending her from the job.
In the second video released in as many days by conservative activist group Project Veritas, Union City Education Association President Kathleen Valencia appears to suggest that a teacher cover up and not admit injuring a student.
Valencia is seen and heard on the video telling an undercover agent for Veritas that she is aware of a district teacher who was accused of having sex with a student but who will not be charged with a crime because there's no proof.
The Union City video was released a day after the teachers union president for the Hamilton school district in Mercer County was seen on another undercover Veritas video saying that the union will "bend the truth" to help even "the worst people."
Dr. Scott Rocco, the Hamilton schools superintendent, later called Perry's comments "inappropriate and unacceptable" and said he took unspecified "immediate action." He would not confirm reports that Perry was suspended.
Both videos have also now spurred the state's largest teachers union to review its own policies.
In the Union City video, it appears Valencia believes that the undercover agent is the sister of a teacher in the district who the agent said pushed and injured a student.
In an effort to assure the agent that her brother would come out of the situation unscathed, Valencia holds ups a file she said contained information about a Union City teacher who had sex with a student and whispers, "you're not going to jail."
"You know what this whole file is about? It's about whether or not they get to keep their pension....is he going to jail? No," Valencia says. "How come? Because the child’s not pressing charges. There’s no proof.”
Valencia talked about protecting a teacher from allegations of hitting a student and the steps she would take.
“I’m going to get your brother a lawyer. Your brother’s not going to admit anything happened. The only witness is the scumbag kid… he’s got a record," Valencia said. She advised her “[The teacher’s] not going to admit anything happened… Keep his f**king mouth shut."
Valencia said that the teacher would not even be reprimanded.
"Did the kid’s parent come in? No? Nothing happened… There’s no video? Nothing happened… [The teacher] is fine.”
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Hours after the video was released, Union City school officials said they had suspended Valencia from her $84,100 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 Union City Board of Education said in a statement Thursday.
"We have no governing control over the UCEA, its policies or procedures – we are separate and distinct entities. The UCEA does not speak for our school district.
"We are a high-achieving urban school district that has received numerous national and state awards and we do not want this isolated incident to besmirch the reputation of our district and our employees."
During an on-air interview Thursday morning with New Jersey 101.5's Bill Spadea, Project Veritas founder James O'Keefe, a New Jersey native, called upon the NJEA to release the name of the accused Union City teacher.
"We want to know the name of this teacher who had sex with a teenager. It may be statutory rape, we don't know. It's certainly against the laws and the rules of the NJEA," O'Keefe said.
NJBA spokesman Steve Baker responded to the latest video by once again criticizing Project Veritas for deceptively editing videos for political purposes and to create "a false narrative."
But Baker added on Thursday that the statewide union would commission "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," Baker said. "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."
O'Keefe denies that Project Veritas edits footage in their videos to slant the perspective.
"When it comes to Veritas, first we're ridiculed, then we're attacked, and then the truth becomes self evident," O'Keefe told Spadea.
Nicholas Evangelista, a spokesman for Project Veritas, declined a request from New Jersey 101 to view raw footage from their interviews with Perry or with Valencia.
“Generally, we do not release our raw video to protect the identities and methods of our undercover journalists. In the same vein, newspapers like The New York Times and the Washington Post do not disclose their notes and anonymous sources to protect the security of the individuals they speak to," Evangelista wrote in an email.
Vito Gagliardi Jr., an education attorney with the Morristown firm Porzio, Bromberg & Newman, 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 information they seek.
“I don’t know that anything constructive comes from attacking the messenger since the audio and video demonstrate what (Perry) said," he said after seeing the Hamilton video.
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," Gagliardi said.
The code of ethics published by the Society of Professional Journalists warns journalists against using undercover or surreptitious means to gather information. Reporters are also supposed to identify themselves as such and pretending to be someone else is frowned upon in the industry.
While the NJEA spokesman has pointed out that the Hamilton video has cuts or edits, critics have not pointed to evidence that the video or audio were misleadingly manipulated.
Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ