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Former Teacher of the Year says she felt ‘raped’ by conservative activist after suspension

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010 10:45 EDT
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Suspended even though conservative filmmakers say she ‘did nothing wrong’

A New Jersey special education teacher who risked her life to save school children was suspended for nine days after unintentionally appearing in James O’Keefe’s anti-union “Teachers Unions Gone Wild” video.

In 1997, Alissa Ploshnick received a personal letter from then President Bill Clinton praising her for throwing herself in front of a moving van to protect her students. Ploshnick was hospitalized for broken ribs, a fractured wrist, a badly bruised pelvis, and glass cuts in her eyes.

“I recently heard about your act of heroism and wanted to commend you for your selflessness,” Clinton wrote. “True heroes are rare in today’s world. And, all too often, those who are really making a difference in our communities go unnoticed and unrewarded.”

James O’Keefe is best known for acting as the ‘pimp’ in an ACORN sting operation. In his latest video, titled “Teachers Unions Gone Wild,” O’Keefe hired a number of people to hang around in a hotel where a New Jersey Education Association conference as taking place and record conversations with teachers.

During the making of the video, Ploshnick was secretly recorded by a man working for O’Keefe while they conversed at an East Brunswick bar. The man working for O’Keefe reportedly bought her drinks and pretended to be hitting on her. At one point, while the two were discussing teacher’s tenure, Ploshnick described an incident in which a teacher called a student the n-word, but was not fired, only demoted.

“All she did, according to our video, is unwittingly blow the whistle on a fellow teacher who called a black student the ‘N’ word,” said Christian Hartsock, who worked with O’Keefe on the video. “Basically, she had neither done, nor said anything wrong.”

After the video was released, Superintendent Robert Holster claimed the incident described by Ploshnick never occurred and suspended her for nine days for using the n-word.

“I felt like I was raped,” Ploshnick said after learning the flirtatious young man was actually part of a campaign to discredit her union.

Journalistic standards require reporters to identify themselves and not surreptitiously record others.

Journalists should “recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention” states the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. “Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.”

The Code of Ethics also tells journalists to “avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information.”

Alan Zegas, a lawyer representing Ploshnick, is investigating the “circumstances leading to the harm suffered by Alissa to determine whether legal action should be taken” against O’Keefe, noting the secret taping of conversations was “deeply disturbing.’”

The video also captured audio of teachers chanting, “Let’s have a whiskey and get a little misty. Join me now and slander Chris Christie!”

Republican Chris Christie is the current governor of New Jersey and has been engaged in an on-going battle with the New Jersey Education Association over teacher pay benefits and tenure.

Christie described the video as both “enlightening and enraging.”

“If you need an example of what I’ve been talking about for the last nine months — about how the teacher’s union leadership is out of touch with the people and out of control — go watch this video,” Christie said at a town hall in South Brunswick.

“I think it’s so unfair that I should be in the middle of this,” said Ploshnick. “I’m not the monster I’ve been made out to be.”

“And let’s face it: Alissa Ploshnick wasn’t punished, her reputation wasn’t destroyed, her professionalism and heroism disregarded, because she repeated a word someone else said,” writes Bob Braun, columnist for Star-Ledger. “She was sacrificed to a political cause.”

O’Keefe was sentenced to three years of probation for attempting to secretly tape phone lines at Senator Mary Landrieu’s (D-LA) office.

 
 
 
 
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