The city teachers’ union has filed an ethics complaint against school board member Emanuel Capers for sharing a video that captured a provoked International High School teacher threatening a student with violence using racial epithet and profanity.
John McEntee, Jr., president of the Paterson Education Association, filed the complaint against Capers on Thursday. He alleges the school board member violated five letters — C, D, E, G, I — of the Code of Ethics for School Board Members by sharing the video on Facebook three days after the incident.
“Mr. Capers’ actions were below the high standards that the Paterson Education Association would expect of any board member. His unethical actions may very well prejudice the rights of all of our members,” said McEntee. “To say that we have been very disappointed by Mr. Capers’ behavior as a Board of Education member is an understatement.”
Capers struck back stating McEntee should focus on teaching his members how to properly conduct themselves with students.
“He has the right to file. Anybody has the right to file ethics complaints,” said Capers on Friday morning. “This is probably a counter attack for how I voted for him during his case.” He is making a reference to the tenure charges the school board approved against McEntee earlier in the year.
Capers shared the video on Monday — three days after it was posted by someone else and had gone viral, he said. “The video was already out there on YouTube and Facebook. This video is nothing I generated; this is nothing I recorded. This was nothing confidential,” said Capers. The incident captured in the one-minute video shows an apparently provoked Georgiana Jackson delivering a verbal attack laced with the n-word and f-word to a student. She is African-American.
Jackson, a special education teacher, who taught for almost three years at the district, resigned on the same Friday the incident occurred.
Capers shared the video with a written statement that the district had taken action against the teacher. His intention was to inform the community that the district had taken action as a result of the incident captured on video, he said.
“I was strictly looking out for our students. Our students should not be treated or talked to like that by staff members,” said Capers.
Capers took down the video following criticism from school board president Christopher Irving. He issued an apology for sharing the video.
“What commissioner Capers did is unacceptable,” said Irving. “I love him, but he put us in such a bad spot when he did that. I called him and told him, ‘I wish you hadn’t done that.’”
Irving apologized to the teachers’ union for Capers’ actions, he said. He said Capers should not have shared the video or commented on it after acting superintendent Eileen Shafer described it as a personnel matter.
Capers said he did not receive any specific instructions from the superintendent to not comment on the matter.
School board member Jonathan Hodges defended Capers. He said Capers very likely received inquiries from residents expressing concerns about the incident.
“He was getting complaints from people and his position was we’re taking action. How does that arise to the level of an ethics charge?” asked Hodges, the longest serving member on the school board. “He re-posted an issue to try to quell the concerns in the community. That to me is part of his responsibility.”
Hodges noted Capers did not mention the name of the teacher in his comments. Hodges has experience dealing with ethics charges. He was taken up on an ethics complaint in 2003 by his then-colleague Juan “Mitch” Santiago for approving a payment of bills that issued a check to a pre-school in which Hodges had an interest.
Hodges told the state he inadvertently voted to approve the payment of bills without knowing the content of the resolution. He was reprimanded by the state.
The School Ethics Commission has the power to reprimand and even remove school board members.
Capers said both presidents have been criticizing him while being silent on the underlying issue presented in the video. “Instead of criticizing me, let’s find a way to solve the problem,” said Capers. “I’m not here to play politics.” He has called on the district to provide better de-escalation training to staff members.
Capers will be able to retain an attorney that will be covered by the district, said both Irving and Hodges. If the Capers wins the ethics case the district will pick up the costs. However, if he loses the case the district will not, said Hodges.