The West New York Education Association was turning people away at the door of their BOE forum last night, an invite only affair, which has some residents outraged.
In a YouTube video uploaded by Thomas Leung, a past unsuccessful BOE and commissioner candidate who ran with Count Wiley’s West New York Unite slate in May, shows a man standing outside the front door of the Robert Menendez School with a list who denies a reporter and Leung access to the venue.
“I’m sorry, your name’s not here,” the man, who is not identified in the video, tells Laura Herzog, who typically covers education issues for NJ Advance Media.
“But, I mean there was, I, what is this list?,” she responded, obviously perplexed as to why she was not able to cover the event. Hudson County View did not attend since we were explicitly told the event was invite only.
“Basically generated from our school’s pride events,” he said.
“Yea, I mean I’m a reporter, I wouldn’t be going to a pride event,” Herzog responded.
“Well, that’s how … that’s how the list gets generated,” he stated.
“Can I see the list please?” Herzog asked. “It’s right here,” the man replied.
At this point, Leung interjects and asks if he is on the list and he is not.
“I remember you were here last year, unfortunately, not it’s not,” the man said after briefly looking at the list, which appears to be a few pages long.
Leung, who participated in last year’s WNYEA candidate forum, wanted to know how anyone not invited was supposed to know what transpired inside the venue.
” … Because I certainly would like to go, just to share the news, on information for the candidates – especially since it’s supposed to be open for the public – otherwise, how will they know with the various candidates? Who to vote for and what not?”
“That’s true,” the man responded calmly.
“So will there be any release, any recording?” Leung inquired. “There is no audio, there is no video,” the man answered, further confusing both Herzog and Leung.
“So then what is the … how will the message be put out for the various candidates that are in there?,” Leung continued to press.
“Through, family, friends, word of mouth,” the man replied.
Leung, who was with his young son, was also informed that no children were allowed into the venue “because that’s the way it’s been set up.”
When reached by Hudson County View, Leung said he was “very disappointed” in the way things unfolded.
“I’m very disappointed. It’s just very unfair this is happening, that we don’t have access to how our schools are run, how our government seems to have it’s fingers into everything. We were denied access to information, as voters, as parents, to do what’s best for their children and the schools,” he said.
“I was really, really upset that I had brought my son to see how adults, professionals handle a debate or Q & A style format. When I was told he wasn’t allowed in, that’s what upset me the most.”
He added that he wanted to keep a low profile and didn’t want to start a commotion, but after 30 minutes of waiting, he said he had to take it upon himself to figure out what was going on.
Anita Kober, the President of the West New York Education Association, said there were actually more people invited to this forum than there were last year.
“We planned our event just like we did last year, only we added people that had participated in our pride events throughout the year who had given their email addresses – so they were invited – as well as members of our association,” she said over the phone this morning.
Kober also said that she couldn’t speak to how many people were turned away at the door of the school, still commonly referred to as Public School No. 3 and located at 600 55th Street, adding that the WNYEA was not preventing anyone else from hosting a separate forum with their own rules.
When asked why the forum wasn’t being taped for residents to view at a later date, Kober responded:
“Anybody can take anything out of context, I don’t think it’s fair to any of the candidates. These people will directly affect our employment,” which is why the WNYEA opted to host a forum under their own terms, she stated.
Hudson County View, specifically this reporter, was contacted by the WNYEA to host the debate last year, but that idea was squashed in favor of a private forum strictly for WNYEA members.
The reason given by the West New York BOE at the time was that no outside agencies were allowed to use the schools for business.
Melinda Saunders, a West New York parent with a child in the public school system, said every homeowner and parent should’ve had the option to attend the debate.
“As a homeowner, registered voter and a parent of my child in the school system, I have a very vested interest in who are members of the board. Our school system is in the bottom 20 percent of the state and I wanted a chance to meet the candidates and understand how they are going to change this statistic,” she said in an email.
“It is not something to be proud of as a citizen of West New York. We deserve a chance to meet the people we are voting for in a public forum. It should not be by invite only when the matter on hand is a public issue.”
Boris Gresely, one of the four candidates who participated in the forum (seven have their names on the ballot), said he had a serious problem with the event being invite only.
“I was completely baffled and stunned by this event being private instead of open to the public,” he said, noting that there was an obvious miscommunication in how the event was promoted.
“There was no transparency as to how this list was created, who could input names to this list. One of my mentors made the drive from Syracuse University and was not allowed in. I understand some misinterpretation was involved, but there was a lot of space inside the venue.”
Gresely said he believe only about 15 people sat in the auditorium, all of which were there to support the “establishment slate,” referring to the Children First team – who was represented by Jonathan Castaneda.
Castaneda said he was unable to take a phone call from Hudson County View this morning but would return the call as soon as possible.
Gresely also said the forum was originally supposed to be held at the middle school and he was not informed of the venue change until hours before the forum started.
“I didn’t expect this sort of performance or behavior,” Gresely said, later calling the scenario “appalling” and “not a true Democratic process. ”
However, he did credit the WNYEA for apologizing to those in attendance for the confusion surrounding the situation. Additionally, Gresely said he’s considering organizing a public debate where everyone is welcome to attend before November 3.
Ron Scheurle, a BOE candidate who frequently criticizes the Mayor Felix Roque administration, also said he had to find out second hand about the venue change – agreeing with Gresely’s claim that it was never clearly stated that the event was supposed to be invite only.
Further stating that the felt about 35 to 40 people were in attendance, Scheurle concluded that he had no issues with the questions asked “but I have an eerie feeling about this education association,” declining to comment further.
Matthew Cheng, the other candidate who attended the forum, declined to comment.
The New Jersey Education Association said they would return an inquiry seeking comment on the subject later today.