Last week I wrote a post called“Should Gov. Murphy Take Advice From Newark Teacher Union Prez John Abeigon on Charter Schools? Depends On How You Feel About Blackface.” There I noted Abeigon’s blustery defense of his mission to value adults over schoolchildren: “Everyone and their mother in this city is an advocate for the children,“ he explains. “I’m not the parents union…I’m not the children’s union.” In case you forgot, “it’s the Newark Teachers Union.”
Since that post went up a few other items have come to light. I’ll review the most relevant.
To recharge your memory, in the earlier post I listed NTU’s defense of three teachers whom the district was trying to fire. One was a first-grade teacher who allowed 6 and 7-year olds to play “sex games” involving genital, hand, and oral contact during lunch and under classroom tables in her presence; another was charged with using poor judgement as well as wanton and careless disregard for her students’ welfare after a student took a razor blade from her desk and slashed another student, who required sutures and stitches; the third was caught screaming at students, denying students bathroom breaks without rationale, and forcibly grabbing students by their clothing in an inappropriate manner. (Click on the names in last week’s post for documentation.)
This is how John Abeigon makes use of Newark district teachers’ hard-earned money: defending the indefensible.
I’ve since been pointed to yet another case, that of Marie Ebert (click on her name to see the court ruling), a district art teacher at the (now closed) Alexander Street School. According to witnesses, who included two special education teachers at the school, a legal assistant, and the district Affirmative Action Officer, students reported that “Ms. Ebert has called them crazy, stupid, and racist. In addition, one student was told that she stinks. Students have also reported that they have been kicked out of class and have nowhere to go. They feel Ms. Ebert does not like or respect them.”
One student said, “Mrs. Ebert calls me retarded…she says mean things to me…she says we act like fools; she said we act like wild animals and we act like monkeys. When Mrs. Thompson is around she will come to say it to us [quietly] so Mrs. Thompson can’t hear her.” The other special education teacher, Ms. Kaczka, said “[the children] were just really upset. They were crying. We had special ed kids, so, you know, they’re already behind as it is in their academics, so the name-calling, it just really hurt their feelings.”
The two special education teachers also reported that, while they tried to help the students “cope with their feelings of going to art class,” things just kept “recurring and recurring.” It got to the point “where we felt that the students were getting hurt emotionally, it was harming them.” They concluded, “we are concerned with out students’ safety, emotional well-being, and their academic growth.”
Another staff member at Alexander Street School said, “We believe that this educator is unfit for duty.”
Guess what? NTU won. Mrs. Ebert went back to the classroom because the arbitrator ruled that while “there is just cause to find the respondent has committed conduct unbecoming a teacher,” the district “has not proven just cause for a penalty as severe as loss of tenure and discharge.”
The arbitrator did suggest that she should “strive to improve her inter-personal and professional skills.”
Ya think? Yet Abeigon posts on NTU’s Facebook page,
Not surprised our employers are so inept. FYI the NTU does not spend a dime of member dues defending criminal charges of any kind.
Actually, Facebook is fertile ground for unearthing bizarre comments from Abeigon. Here are a few examples:
On October 27th, 2017, he posted,
Step One will be eradicating all “reformers” and other assorted hypocrites and parasites from the NJDOE and local boards of education. Step Two will be replacing them with professionals who have actual classroom teaching experience.
And on March 19th there’s this:
This is as a result of my visit to Oliver St School to check up on the staff and students. I reported out that there was “September dust” in hallways and therefore impossible that the building had been cleaned over the weekend.
On advise of counsel I have no comment except for this, I don’t blame Ass’t Sup’t Mitch Center or Principal Petty, they are infected with the vicious hatred of honesty and concern for working people and children spread by their boss-Cami Anderson.
Then shall come the Lord and the lightning.
On June 8th 2017, in reference to Newark Public Schools’ “Fun Day,” an occasion for the community to celebrate children and teachers (thousands turned out), Abeigon writes,
NTU asks that you boycott Saturday’s NPS Fun Day! Send Cerf the message—a hot dog doesn’t cut the mustard.
In a post dated August 31st, 2018:
Our meetings with NJDOE Commish [Lamont Repollet] & staff are starting to show results. Effective this year, PARCC scores will account for only 5% of a teachers eval, down from 20% in NPS.
Gutting this entire provision of TeachNJ is the goal, but this is a good start.
I also obtained a letter to NTU members with the subject line “To All Members and Principals: The No! is strong! The time is now!” which is dated April 30, 2015, a time when an assistant superintendent was interviewing teachers about some personnel matters. The letter concludes,
The time is now. Will you stand up with your communities or will you go
to bed each night like a kapo at Nazi concentration camp?
Newark Teachers Union
FYI, kapos were prisoners in Nazi concentration camps who were forced by Gestapo to supervise forced labor of other prisoners or carry out administrative tasks.
Even if I weren’t a Jew, I would find this analogy — teachers as concentration camp victims — terribly offensive.
Now, I’ve been told that Newark teachers don’t take Abeigon seriously, that they regard him as all flimflam and bluster. They know his behavior is inappropriate — after all, they’re professional educators! — and are themselves largely respectful of the district.
And so once again we arrive at this conundrum: Union leaders say outrageous things that don’t represent their members and yet these leaders claim to speak for thousands of diligent, child-centric professionals, like the teachers who testified at Marie Ebert’s arbitration hearing. Surely they don’t approve of comparing teachers who meet with their superiors as “kapos”; surely they don’t support boycotting a community-wide celebration; surely they don’t want to “eradicate” all “reformers” who strive to ensure that all Newark students have access to high-quality public schools, regardless of governance.
I’ve spoken to Newark teachers. Not one has ever vilified fellow educators.
In 2016 then-Newark Superintendent Chris Cerf wrote a letter to Abeigon. No one I know can explicate complex relationships more clearly than Cerf. We’ll let him have the final word.