A New Jersey teacher has been fired for assigning her class to write get-well cards for convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Until Tuesday, Marylin Zuniga taught third grade at Forest Street School in Orange, an outlying suburb of New York. However, her career has come crashing down since she had her students write cards to Abu-Jamal in April after he was hospitalized for complications with diabetes. (RELATED: Third-Grade Teacher Has Students Write ‘Get Well’ Cards To Cop Killer Mumia Abu-Jamal)
Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther, is serving a life sentence in a Pennsylvania prison for the 1981 murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner. However, for years he has been a cause célèbre of activists, who praise the writing he has produced in prison and argue his conviction was a miscarriage of justice created by racial bias. He has had an essay published in the Yale Law Journal, is an honorary citizen of many cities around the world (including Paris and Montreal), and in 2000 he delivered a recorded commencement address at Antioch College.
When Zuniga landed in hot water for her class’s letter, several of these activists came to her defense, saying in a letter she deserved “commendation for her wisdom and courage in times so threatening and foreboding for our children of color and for all who care about justice in the land today.”
Zuniga was suspended shortly after the story broke, and on Tuesday Zuniga made her case for returning to the classroom at an official hearing.
“My students need me in the classroom. My students have requested that I come back to the classroom,” Zuniga said, according to NJ.com. “They miss me and they’ve been asking for me, and that’s what’s most important. No one is thinking about the students.” Zuniga had already apologized for the assignment, although it wasn’t the first time she’d injected politics into the classroom, as last November she had her students do a “community research project” on the death of Michael Brown.
School board members were unmoved by Zuniga’s pleas, however, and voted to send her packing. Zuniga’s quick firing was likely possible because, as a first-year teacher, she has not received tenure.
Zuniga’s lawyer says the teacher is considering a lawsuit to get her job back, and accused board members of “abdicat[ing] their responsibility to the community.”
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