Newark public school officials are seeking the indictment of a top officer of the Newark Teachers Union. They are charging John Abeigon, the NTU’s director of organization, with “defiant trespass,” a fourth degree crime that carries with it possible penalties of up to 18 months in jail, a $10,000 fine, and revocation of state teaching licenses.
The charges against the 58-year-old union leader arise from an incident in March that followed the death, probably as a result of meningitis, of an 6-year-old pupil from the Oliver Street School. Abeigon says he went to the school to determine whether it had been adequately cleaned and disinfected to prevent the spread of the disease.
The Newark school administration had not been totally honest about its handling of the tragedy, initially issuing a false report that the child had not been in school when she was contagious. A spokeswoman for Cami Anderson, the state-appointed schools superintendent, said officials had “misread” attendance reports.
Abeigon said he was ordered out of the school before he had the chance to speak with the teacher who had the child in her class. Instead of leaving, he took a stairway up to the second floor and did try again to speak with the teacher. He was again ordered out of the school. Weeks later, he was served with a summons to appear, not before a municipal judge in Newark, but before a state Superior Court judge, Siobhan Teare.
At that initial appearance–last Friday–Abeigon’s attorney, Joseph Fusella, was told by an assistant prosecutor the leadership of the Newark Public Schools was seeking a grand jury indictment of the union leader. That’s why it was in state, rather than municipal, court–and headed for the grand jury.
“I had never been told the charges against me until that day,” said Abeigon. He cites the NTU contract that permits a union staff member to be in schools when issues arise concerning the health, safety, and welfare of union members.
Another hearing has been scheduled for next month. The Essex County prosecutor’s mujst decide by then whether it will go along with presenting the case to a grand jury or reduce the charge to a disorderly person’s offence and send it down to municipal court.
This site has obtained the complaint signed by Douglas Petty, the principal of Oliver Street. Petty contends Abeigon “pulled away” from school officials while he was being escorted out of the building, “ran” upstairs and was later “found” outside the classroom of the child who had died and was again escorted outside.
The complaint from Petty calls the crime “criminal trespass.” The law cited is 2C:18-3A, the state law against trespassing. It is usually a disorderly persons offence, but, if the crime is committed on school property, it becomes a fourth-degree offense, an indictable crime with much harsher penalties.
Abeigon says the district not only lied about when the child was at school, but also about its efforts to disinfect the school to prevent further infection of children and staff members. He said he found “September dust” in area of the school where the child had been.
This was not the first run-in between NTU officials and the leadership of the school district during this school year. After Abeigon took pictures of vermin infestation and other unsanitary conditions at Lafayette School, he was “banned” from all schools–despite a provision in the NTU contract that allows union staff members to be in schools to assure the health, welfare, and safety of its members.
Anderson and her state team have frequently resorted to criminal sanctions to suppress criticism. More than a year ago, it charged community activist and elected parent leader Daryn Martin with assault on former assistant superintendent Tiffany Hardrick. Hardrick left with a controversial $12,000 good-bye gift from the state-appointed administrators.
More recently, Anderson banned from school property Roberto Cabanas, an organizer with NJ Communities United, an organization that helps the growing Newark Students Union. Cabanas has vowed to defy the ban.
The perversion of the criminal justice system for political purposes is standard operating procedure in Chris Christie’s New Jersey. Christie was a loser of a politician until his brother Todd made massive contributions to the Republican party and got Chris the job as federal prosecutor for New Jersey.
He then used that position to draw attention to himself and eliminate political rivals, wiping out Democrats and urban politicians like Sharpe James and Wayne Bryant–while withholding investigations from characters like George Norcross who were later to become important allies.
Just weeks before he was elected governor–with 48 percent of the vote–Christie’s allies in the federal prosecutor’s office (including a woman assistant to whom he gave a mortgage) arranged for the bust of Democratic politicians and phony raids on the home and office of former Assembly Speaker Joseph Doria. It took two years to clear Doria’s name–no charges were ever brought.
Christie is trying to ride that tawdry trail right to the White House. Let’s hope such ambitions are as ridiculous as they seem. But, meanwhile, he and his allies in the Newark schools and elsewhere have learned his lessons well–and are trying to rob dissenters of their rights and teachers of their careers.