Warning: video featuring Basil Henning, also seen below in a 2014 photo, includes graphic language. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
Superintendent Nelson Ribon announced in a Sunday night letter to parents and teachers that Knollwood School Spanish teacher Basil Henning had been placed on administrative leave. No reason was given for the action, and Ribon declined to comment to redbankgreen Monday, citing rules concerning personnel matters.
But Henning’s administrative leave followed complaints by at least one parent about videos in which Henning plays a foul-mouthed Jets fan who keeps up a constant patter about hookers, oral sex and other adult matters in addition to football.
Melissa Neczesny, the mother of one of Henning’s sixth-grade students, said she heard about the videos last week, and thought nothing of them until she watched them. In one, titled “Jersey Sports Fan” and apparently shot outside the Fair Haven Firehouse in 2009, Henning plays a Christmas tree seller with a flair for sexual innuendo as he comments on a sex scandal involving Tiger Woods.
“I bang hookers, I send weird text messages,” he says, apparently employing a New York accent. “How come I can’t even break a hundred on the course?”
In another, which appears to have been shot in Hawaii in 2011 prior to a Jets-Steelers playoff game, Henning’s character makes lewd comments about women and jokes about driving while intoxicated.
Neczesny said she was “shocked beyond words” by the sex talk and disparagement of women in the videos, and called Ribon to complain. He told her, she said, that he’d learned of the videos in the preceding 48 hours and was “working on it.”
Neczesny said she asked that her daughter be removed from Henning’s Spanish class immediately.
“I’m so skeeved out by the nature of this man that I don’t want her anywhere near him,” she said.
It doesn’t matter that the videos are several years old, or depict an over-the-top fictional character, she said.
“I really don’t care,” she said. “If you want to be an actor, be an actor.” She said her husband would lose his job if he posted something similar on the web.
The videos are also a clear violation of school policy, Neczesny said.
A section of the school district’s policy regarding social media says that staff members “shall not use social networking sites to post any materials of a sexually graphic nature.” Here’s the full text: FH BOE SOCIAL NETWORKING
Her involvement has triggered unexpected blowback from other parents, Neczesny said, including an accusation on a closed Fair Haven Moms Facebook page that she was conducting a “witch hunt” without regard for the satirical nature of the videos.
Another parent said she herself was guilty of cyberbullying for posting the videos on the page.
Henning, of Rumson, could not be reached for comment Monday. His father, Bill Henning, said he may be under a gag order from either the school or the teacher’s union until the matter is discussed at the next board of ed meeting.
An official with the local unit of the teacher’s union could not immediately be reached for comment.
According to a published report, Henning was hired at the start of the 2011-2012 school year. Neczesny said he was granted tenure last year.
The Asbury Park Press’ Data Universe lists Henning’s salary at just under $50,000.
Here’s Ribon’s note to parents:
Dear Parents & Guardians,
I am writing to inform you that Mr. Basil Henning, a Knollwood School staff member, has been placed on administrative leave effective immediately. We are taking the proper steps to ensure that appropriate coverage is put into place.
Since this is a personnel matter, information regarding this cannot be discussed or shared with the public by our administration or BOE members, nor will it be a part of the public portion of our upcoming Board of Education meeting. If and when it is legally permissible and appropriate, information would be disseminated.
Thank you for your time.