WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) After hidden-camera video surfaced showing the president of a local teachers union making claims that he has threatened students with physical violence, the Wichita school district is investigating.
The man in the video appears to be Steve Wentz, president of United Teachers of Wichita. The footage was shot by an undercover journalist working for Project Veritas.
Project Veritas is registered as a non-profit organization that specializes in what it calls investigations using undercover journalists. On its website, the group's founder said its mission is to "investigate and expose corruption, dishonesty, and other misconduct in both public and private institutions".
The latest video is the fourth of a series focused on what it calls systemic corruption in teachers unions across the country.
In the video, which features Wentz along with several other people in other states, the undercover reporter talks with Wentz while he attended a conference in Florida in 2015. The interaction takes place at a hotel bar.
During the conversation, Wentz describes a time when he threatened a student with physical violence saying, "Do you really want to kick my ass? Do you really think I'm a (expletive)? Son, go for it and I'll give you the first shot."
The reporter then asks if Wentz said that to a student and responded, "I've done this more than once. And I said, but I will guarantee you, I will kick your (expletive) ass."
The interaction between the reporter and Wentz continued and Wentz began to explain how he felt he would be in trouble with the union if they found out.
"The union would throw me under the bus," Wentz said.
When the reporter questioned, "they would?", Wentz responded by saying "Are you serious? I mean, yeah. If it was proven that I told a kid come at me, hit me and I will kick your ass? Oh yeah, they wouldn't."
The video is edited to where viewers can't see the entire interaction. Factfinder 12 called Project Veritas to get the unedited version, but they said no. The group did send a statement which reads:
"The Project Veritas video accurately represents the two conversations Mr. Wentz had with our journalists. It is very clear and obvious that there is limited editing in the video, as is our practice. We stand by our production standards. As is the case with your station and journalists in general, we do not release our raw video or reporters notebooks."
Wentz has been with the Wichita district for more than 20 years and was elected president of the teachers union in 2015. So Eyewitness News contacted the district about the video. Officials with USD 259 said they were made aware of the video Tuesday. They said they are following protocol and investigating the allegations, but they would not answer any further questions at this time.
Eyewitness News also called Steve Wentz directly. The union said he was out of town for a work conference and Wentz did not return any calls made to his cell phone.
In a second part of the video, Wentz is contacted a second time by a different undercover reporter for Project Veritas. In that interaction, Wentz denies ever making those comments saying he's never said that to a student at school.
In response to the video and the claims from Project Veritas, Marcus Baltzell, Director of the Kansas National Education Association (KNEA) issued a joint statement on behalf of the KNEA and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). The statement is as follows:
Kansas educators are committed to the success and safety of every student. This is something Kansas NEA and AFT Kansas take seriously as both a professional and moral obligation.
Kansas NEA and AFT Kansas have been made aware of a heavily edited video being shopped to the media purporting to show a local association leader making inflammatory statements. The tenor and tone of those statements as they are presented in the video do not reflect the principles of KNEA or AFT Kansas. The unedited footage that forms the basis of this inflammatory video is being withheld by the video promoters, which prohibits a full evaluation.
This video is one element of a smear campaign promulgated by a known criminal who masquerades as a journalist in order to engage in deeply divisive and politically motivated attacks that promote his partisan political agenda. In fact inflammatory and serious allegations are being made by the video producers that are not supported even by the heavily edited footage that has been publicized, and important context is missing from key portions of the video.
Manufacturing and concocting stories to entrap people, James O’Keefe has largely been rejected by serious journalists as nothing more than an ideological attack dog. The hallmark of the O’Keefe-style character assassination is to fabricate a story and ignore any semblance of principle or integrity in search of the narrative he was hired to secure.