The superintendent of a suburban school district in the middle of a tense teachers strike released new video and a statement following a controversial incident caught on camera this week.
Cell phone video captured the heated moments Tuesday night between Proviso Supt. Dr. James Henderson and board member Claudia Medina. In the footage, the superintendent is seen on video making a back-hand gesture, then seconds later, security steps in.
“He said get the [expletive] out of my face [expletive], and then he first went like this, and then he went to elbow me in the face then they took him away,” said Medina.
The video taken by a Proviso student shows the confrontation at the end of the board meeting at Proviso West High School in Hillside.
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But in his own defense, Henderson on Friday released two additional camera angles of the same incident, calling Medina the aggressor.
"At Tuesday’s Board meeting, Ms. Medina, aggressively came towards me and violated my personal space while shoving me with her body and screaming demands. She was so close that I felt her spittle on my face," Henderson wrote in a letter to parents. "What you saw was a human reaction to someone who has, for the last year and a half, purposely distracted and hindered me from doing the work that I was hired to do — educate our scholars. With the challenges brought on by the pandemic, the last two years have been difficult for everyone, especially our students. However, this behavior should not be endured by any human being."
It remains unclear why Henderson turned around toward Medina raising his arm.
“How embarrassing is this?” said Medina. “The superintendent would take a five-foot woman when he’s more than six feet tall, and feel that he has the need to intimidate me with violence when I’m asking him as his boss for accountability.”
Medina, who voted against Henderson’s hiring and contract extension, said things escalated when she asked for a copy of his schedule. This comes as about 300 teachers continue to strike for the second week over a new contract.
The teachers union said they’ve been fighting for smaller class sizes and fair pay to attract and retain teachers and now they want the superintendent investigated and placed on administrative leave.
“I know parents and students there have been calling for his resignation on social media,” said union president Maggie Riley. “But where we stand there should be at least an investigation of what happened last night at that meeting.”
“I’m calling on the superintendent to resign or to leave,” said Medina.
The school board released a statement late Wednesday calling Medina's comments "an unnecessary and inappropriate distraction."
"Our Board majority denounces these divisive and disparaging comments. We remain committed to putting our students first and remain focused on tomorrow’s negotiations. We stand united behind Dr. Henderson and his ongoing efforts to reach a contract agreement that advances the best interests of all District 209 stakeholders— teachers, parents, community taxpayers, and, most importantly, our students," the statement read in part.
Medina told NBC 5 she filed a police report alleging assault and battery. The Hillside Police Department is investigating the complaint and no charges have been filed at this time.
As for the teachers strike, students remained out of classrooms Friday. The union is expected to hold a press conference Friday morning.
Negotiations stalled Thursday after the district and union spent 10 hours going back and forth.
Students won't be in class next week due to spring break, making it at least three weeks out of the classroom.