Chris Hoffman, New Haven Schools Spokesperson, Grabs Camera, Orders Filming Stopped (VIDEO)
This piece comes to us courtesy of New Haven Independent.
(Updated 12/21/2011 at 5:42 p.m. with apology.) The city's schools spokesman grabbed a reporter's camera during a pre-arranged reporting session and demanded that filming be stopped at the newly privatized Roberto Clemente school.
The incident Wednesday morning once again raised questions about the transparency of the school reform movement, in particular the city's first public school to be run by a private company.
This reporter arrived at the school just before 10 a.m. for a pre-arranged meeting with Principal Pam Franco at the Roberto Clemente Leadership Academy at 360 Columbus Ave. The Independent requested to set up the meeting in order to cover a computer testing session with students.
The Independent has been checking in at the school this year, following its takeover by a New Jersey-based company called Renaissance Services LLC.
On Wednesday morning, at the beginning of the Independent's visit, schools spokesman Chris Hoffman made an unannounced visit to the school. He announced he would be following the Independent along with the visit. This reporter objected, saying that having district officials hovering over reporters interferes with the relationships between reporters and teachers and students.
(Update: Wednesday afternoon, Hoffman contacted the Independent to offer this statement: "I apologize to Melissa Bailey for my conduct today. It was wrong and unprofessional, and I deeply regret my actions.")
Second update: Hoffman put in a letter of resignation Friday, effective at the end of January.
The Independent was not aware that anyone from the district would be attending the visit. Hoffman had not warned the Independent he would be following along. He said he got word at the last minute Wednesday morning from schools Superintendent Reggie Mayo personally asking him to attend.
After the Independent aired concerns off-camera, Hoffman insisted upon following the Independent. This reporter pulled out her Nikon D3100 camera and began filming an interview with Hoffman.
"No, I'm not doing the video," Hoffman protested. He grabbed the lens of the Nikon and pushed it downward.
When the Independent kept filming, he put his hands on his hips, and got close to the reporter, yelling.
"For the record, I didn't touch you. I touched your camera," Hoffman later emphasized, raising his voice and pointing his finger. "If you say otherwise," he warned, pointing his finger again.
"Turn the camera off," he ordered. Click on the play arrow at the top of the story to watch. At the beginning of the video, the view is blocked because Hoffman is grabbing the lens.
It was a similar circumstance to May 13, when Hoffman barred the Independent access to a meeting with parents at the about the upcoming corporate takeover at the 500-student, K-12 school.
At that time, Hoffman explained on video why barring reporters from public meetings is in keeping with the school district's vow for transparency in its nascent school reform movement. (Click on the play arrow to watch.)
Subsequently, the school board held an illegal meeting to approve the contract with the school's new private managers before it had been publicly discussed. When the illegal nature of the meeting was raised, officials aborted the meeting.
Systemwide, critics have raised questions about the ability of students, parents and others to speak publicly about the progress of school reform. The principal of Wilbur Cross High School disbanded a political club after its leader organized a rally for more textbooks. She then canceled a student election after he won it. Mayor John DeStefano subsequently defended the principal's actions as proper and in line with his approach to school reform during this year's mayoral campaign.
Read more on Clemente at the New Haven Independent.