Belleville, New Jersey, is the scene of a major battle between a heavy-handed supervisor and the district’s teachers. Although the district has a financial deficit, and many classes lack up-to-date technology and textbooks, the administration spent $2 million to install a state-of-the-art surveillance system for students and teachers.

Jersey Jazzman writes:

“Perhaps the worst decision the district made over the last few years was to install a state-of-the-art surveillance system in all of its buildings; yes, a “surveillance” system, not a security system. Every classroom in every building is wired for both video and sound — including the teachers lounges! That’s right, my fellow teachers: in Belleville, a camera and microphone monitor every word uttered in the teachers break room! But that’s not all: all Belleville faculty, high school students, and middle school students must have special ID cards with them at all times. These ID’s include “RF-tags,” which are radio frequency devices similar to what you’d find in an EZ-Pass. They were originally used to track cattle: now, they track the positions of all staff and all students at all times. That’s right, my fellow teachers and parents: in Belleville, the movements of students and faculty are tracked at all times! Big Brother better not find out if you snuck off to the bathroom before the bell…”

Teachers were angry about the new surveillance system. Their union leader spoke up. “Mike Mignone, as president of the union, started speaking out. A 13-year veteran math teacher with a spotless record, beloved by his students and fellow teachers, Mignone wasn’t going to just sit by and watch his members continue to be harassed and intimidated. He demanded that the board and the superintendent explain themselves: where did they get the funds for the surveillance system? Why was the time between the advertisement of the bid and the final decision less than two weeks? Why did the entire bidding process stink of nepotism?”

Mignone learned about the surveillance system in October. He spoke out in November. Tenure charges were filed against him in December. He was accused of answering students’ questions about the surveillance system. That was his fireable offense.

Jersey Jazzman writes: “Golly, I wonder how the board knew Mignone had talked to his students about whether someone was listening in on their classroom conversations….If New Jersey didn’t have tenure laws, Mike Mignone would have been fired on the spot — all for the sin of daring to stand up for the taxpayers and teachers of his town. Mignone’s case is the perfect illustration of how tenure not only protects teachers, but also taxpayers.”

Jersey Jazzman was impressed by the turnout at the rally for Mignone: a thousand teachers, firefighters, parents, and students: “Tonight was amazing. Not only was the Belleville community out in full force: there were teachers in their local union shirts from Mahwah, Glen Rock, South Brunswick, Summit, Ramsey, Bergenfield, Mercer County Vo-Tech… everywhere around the state. It was an amazing show of support for one man who has been grievously wronged by trying to do right. This is how we fight back. This is how we make them pay for striking at us. This is how we win. When they go after one of our own, we all have to get together and say: “Enough.” When a good man and a good teacher pays a price for speaking out, we must all demand that justice be done. We simply can’t afford to stand by idly anymore and let others fight for us. We must have each others backs — all of us.”