Thirty years ago today, at the ripe age of 17, I covered my first news story professionally. I covered a huge anti-apartheid rally in Newark, N.J. for The New Jersey Afro-American newspaper, the “baby” of what then was a chain of weeklies that went up and down the East Coast. Deborah P. Smith-Gregory, my journalism teacher at Seton Hall University’s Upward Bound project in 1983, brought me into The AFRO. She allowed me to share her byline with her. The article made it onto the front page, and I never looked back. Thanks, Mrs. Deborah Smith-Gregory!
Got this the other day.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 18, 2015
Larry Hamm, People’s Organization for Progress, 973-801-0001
Donna Nevel, Communities for Marylin Zuniga, 917-570-4371
Supporters Fight to Reinstate Talented Teacher
School Board capitulates to pressure from the Fraternal Order of Police
In an outpouring of community support, hundreds of community members, educators, and parents called for the immediate reinstatement of Marylin Zuniga to her position as a third grade teacher at Forest Street Elementary School in Orange, New Jersey. In spite of this overwhelming support, the Orange Township School Board terminated Ms. Zuniga from her position because she allowed her third grade students to write get-well letters to political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.
As educator and minister Nyle Fort, who is working with Communities for Marylin Zuniga, pointed out: “The Orange Board of Education is supposedly accountable to the community. After the public meeting, in which people spoke overwhelmingly in support of Ms. Zuniga, the school board adopted a resolution identified only by its number, and then got up and left the room. Until calls were made to the school the next day, no one knew that the board had decided to terminate her. That is hardly public accountability.”
Further, according to Alan Levine, one of Ms. Zuniga’s lawyers, “The Orange Board of Education flagrantly violated Ms. Zuniga’s right to due process. She never received a notice describing her misconduct, and had no opportunity to confront her accusers or to present witnesses on her behalf. Her termination lacked those constitutional safeguards designed to insure that government agencies act fairly.”
Hundreds of educators across the country sent a letter to the school board in which they “insist[ed] that Ms. Zuniga be immediately returned to her position as third grade teacher at Forest Street Elementary with supportive mentorship. The educational community is looking to you to develop, and not punish, this committed and qualified educator.”
Educator Awo Okaikor Aryee-Price also added that “Ms. Zuniga’s termination was grossly disproportionate to whatever offense she may have committed. Clearly, her termination was not about her student’s education or safety, but, rather, a reflection of the Board’s capitulation to outside pressures of the Fraternal Order of Police.”
As Mark Taylor, community activist and professor at Princeton Theological Seminary made clear, “ At the heart of this matter is the question of who controls what happens in public school classrooms. As long as the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) can influence what our children can and cannot learn, the right to democratic education is lost.”
“Marylin Zuniga was beloved by her studentsand was a wonderful teacher. If we are thinking about what is best for the children, which should be our only concern, Ms. Zuniga would be back in her classroom, “ said Tamia Chatmon, one of the parents of a student in Ms. Zuniga’s class.
Ms. Zuniga has asked her lawyers and her union to challenge the termination so that she can be reinstated to her classroom
Relevant links and attachments:
statement from educators and scholars across the US:
EMAJ letter posted for Zuniga, April 13, 2015
statement from National Lawyers Guild
news post: Putting Our Children First
“So long as one just person is silenced, there is no justice.”–Mumia Abu-Jamal
(That’s the issue, right? Boy, irony abounds in Black/Brown life! :))
The next meeting of the Orange Board of Education is Tuesday, my old newspaper said.
I’ve long argued Mumia Abu-Jamal was a political prisoner of the First Amendment, and I understand that what Ms. Zuniga did was not in regulation with Orange Board of Education policy, but this looks like she’s a prisoner of the First Amendment, too!
MAY 15th UPDATE: Sad, but not surprising.