Taxpayer-funded Orange, N.J. school teacher Marilyn Zuniga has now announced that she is really sorry that her third-grade students wrote get-well letters to cop killer and one-time death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Zuniga is also blaming eight- and nine-year-old children for coming up with the idea to write the letters to the convicted murderer.
“On February 5th I presented a do-now that stated: ‘What is the main idea of this quote: ‘So long as one just person is silenced, there is no justice,'” Zuniga explained in a statement to the local school board obtained by Philadelphia Magazine. “This quote is by Mumia Abu-Jamal.”
“In April, I mentioned to my students that Mumia was very ill and they told me they would like to write ‘get well’ letters to Mumia,” the Forest Street Elementary School teacher who refers to Abu-Jamal on a first-name basis also wrote.
“I was very proud of my students work and I shared this on social media. I do apologize to parents, students and community members for having done that. My parents, co-workers, and students have always been aware of how much I care for my students and their families and for the entire Orange community.”
Specifically, when Zuniga “shared this on social media,” she wrote “Just dropped these letters to comrade Johanna Fernandez.” (RELATED: Third-Grade Teacher Has Students Write ‘Get Well’ Cards To Cop Killer)
Fernandez is a professor at Baruch College in nearby New York City and a member of the group Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal.
“There is nothing I want more then to remain teaching at Forest Street Elementary School,” Zuniga concluded in her statement. “I made a mistake but I have learned from that. Given my record, I do not believe this one episode justifies my termination.”
While Zuniga has been the subject of widespread criticism and ridicule, she does have her local defenders.
On Monday night, for example, Larry Hamm, chairman of the People’s Organization for Progress, urged a crowd of perhaps 500 at a Bethany Baptist Church event on police brutality to defend Zuniga.
“She tried not only to instruct her children in terms of skills, but also tried to help them understand what it means a compassionate human being,” Hamm said, according to NJ Advance Media. “We need to support this young woman…her heart is the right heart.”
Hamm’s audience included Princeton University emeritus professor Cornel West. (RELATED: Cornel West Came Out As Supporting 9/11 Truthers At Million Muslim March)
Fernandez, the Baruch professor, was more straightforward. “Unless we mount a struggle right here in Newark, she will be fired,” she told the audience.
“I think it’s really important to realize that black and brown schools have fundamentally different relationships to prison and the people inside of them than in white neighborhoods,” added local activist Nyle Fort in defense of Zuniga, reports the New Jersey website.
Zuniga is currently suspended with pay pending the results of an investigation and a decision by the local school board. (RELATED: Third-Grade Teacher Suspended For Having Students Write Cards To Cop Killer Mumia Abu-Jamal)
School district officials have emphatically condemned the assignment, calling the assignment “unauthorized activity” and “vehemently deny” knowing anything about it.
Abu-Jamal, 60, shot and killed Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981.
The former Black Panther was driving a cab in the wee hours of Dec. 9 when he spotted his Faulkner stopping his younger brother for driving a blue Volkswagen the wrong way on a one-way street.
At trial, a jury found that Abu-Jamal, born Wesley Cook, interceded, had a gun battle with Faulker and killed him.
Abu-Jamal had been a death-row inmate for his first-degree murder until 2001, when a federal district judge began a long process that resulted in the commutation of the death sentence.
The next school board meeting is May 12.
In a previous assignment for grade-school students, Zuniga had students engage in a “community research project” about the Michael Brown shooting. She posted a picture of one student’s creation — a poster referencing the “Hands up, don’t shoot” chant made popular following Brown’s death. The phrase was based on some witnesses’ claims that Brown was holding his hands up in surrender when he was shot last August by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson, Mo. police officer. However, the Justice Department determined that Brown was not holding his hands up in that manner.
For now, Zuniga can enjoy use her paid time off to revel in “yoga, reading and DJing,” the activities she enjoy in her spare time, according to her bio at the Forest Street School website.