BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
Comedian Josh Pray, unknowingly caught in the crossfire of the removal of a Montclair principal who showed a Pray video in which he thanks teachers during the pandemic, is firing back.
Pray, a Naples, Fla.-based comedian, inspirational speaker, event host and actor, said he never heard of Montclair until last week when stories hit the internet about his video being shown at a Zoom staff meeting on Sept. 2, and the subsequent removal of Renaissance Middle School Principal Joseph Putrino for showing it.
Although district officials would not comment on what video was shown or its content, staff members told Montclair Local that the video was of the comedian, who is Black, doing a comedy routine in which he “shouts loudly” about the stresses of virtual learning and managing children at home.
The video, entitled “Appreciate Educators – Fathers Apology” and viewed over 14,000 times shows Pray apologizing and thanking teachers for their dedication after the pandemic hit and schools went to remote-only learning.
“At [the] convocation, a completely unacceptable video was broadcast,” Superintendent Jonathan Ponds said. He called the video “completely unacceptable and against the district’s values of diversity and equity.”
Ponds said Putrino’s future with the district is being handled internally by district administration. Putrino has not responded to emails from Montclair Local.
In a statement and a video released today, Pray said that he was blindsided by the recent news that the video was shown and a principal removed due to its “offensive nature,” and that he was “bewildered as to why his race was brought into the conversation.”
Pray said that although he has spoken with Putrino and his legal team, no one from the Montclair public school system has reached out to him to inquire about the “intent of the specific video or his mission.
“Instead, the superintendent, the interim principal and other board members have made assertions that cover a wide range of uninformed and reproachful personal opinions,” he wrote. “These fault-finding attitudes include, but are not limited to, claims that I said disparaging things about my own children, I am an angry Black man, and the video as a whole was offensive and racist.
“I have so many questions, but my main question is this: How is my video of thanking and appreciating teachers with heartfelt fervor ‘racist’ and ‘offensive’? In a time where it feels like all we have are heated and rash decisions, the Montclair public school system has made yet another heated and rash decision based on the color of my skin.”
At the BOE meeting held on the evening of Sept. 2, Putrino was replaced by Major Jennings, vice principal at Buzz Aldrin Middle School, due to the video’s being deemed to be racially insensitive.
Putrino has been principal of Renaissance since 2018, after serving as principal of Glenfield. He was also president of the Montclair Principals Association.
The Montclair Branch of the NAACP had also demanded that the Montclair BOE take action to “address the racist and offensive video presented by Putrino.” And they pointed to a suit against Putrino in 2019 by six Black teachers at Glenfield that alleged they were passed over for additional teaching opportunities in favor of white candidates while Putrino was principal at Glenfield. That case is pending in Essex County Superior Court.
Hillside School Principal Samanthaa Anglin, who is now acting president of the Montclair Principals Association, said the association did not vet or condone the video before it was aired.
Pray said his supporters have asked him if he will stop making videos or making videos about teachers.
“The answer is a very solid ‘No.’ Did educators give up on teaching? The answer again is solid and true, ‘No.’ Our answers align because our values align,” he said about attempting to add a little levity in a COVID world.
In a video posted later about the situation, Pray says: “Can I just get back to making my regular videos now? I don’t like these explanation videos.”